|"A GREAT RETURN TO THE BIBLE" |
by Dr Pence Dacus
(Church History Correspondence Course)
FOUNDATION, IDENTITY, AND EXPANSION OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST
THE FOUNDATION OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST
"I will build my church" Matt. 16:18
"Thou art the Christ" Matt. 16:16
"Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation." (Isaiah 28:16)
"Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner." (Matthew 21:42)
"This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner." (Acts 4:11)
"And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone." (Ephesians 2:20)
"Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture. Behold, I lay in Sion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious." (I Peter 2:6)
"For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid which is Jesus Christ." (I Corinthians 3:11)
In our previous lesson we noted that the message of the early church focused upon a resurrected Christ. Today, we will examine the foundation and identity of the church, then chart its expansion course. Review briefly Lesson 6.
* The coming of the kingdom was foretold by the prophets.
* The date of its establishment was Pentecost, A.D. 33. The Kingdom and the church are one and the same.
Consider the following facts about the Church:
* The church, the ekklesia, the "called out" body of Christ is not a denomination.
* We are baptized into Christ, into His body, added to the church and translated into the kingdom.
* There is one true church -- the Bible does not approve of denominations (division). See I Cor. 1:10-13.
* The church, world-wide, or local, is not a denomination.
* The church is not a physical structure (a building); it is a spiritual structure.
But, you may ask, what about the foundation of the church?
Foundation of the Church
In Matt. 7:24-27, Jesus told this story. "Therefore whosoever heareth these saying of mine, and doeth them I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And everyone that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell : and great was the fall of it." Thus we understand that things founded upon rocks are certain to remain.
In Matt. 16:18, Jesus said: "Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
These points can be quickly established.
* Christ was to be the builder. "I will build..."
* The church of Christ belongs to Christ; it is of Christ. "I will build my church." It is owned by Him. He possesses it.
* He will build his church -- not churches, as of many, but church, as of one.
* He will build his church. In previous study you learned that it was erected on Pentecost, A.D. 33.
* His church is his kingdom. (Read verses 18 and 19 together)
But, what about the rock? To what, or whom was Jesus refer? There are only two alternatives.
So, it was either Christ's confession of Peter, or Peter's confession of Christ, Many religionists insist that Peter was rock because the word Peter means rock or Stone. However, the original Greek language positively was not permit this interpretation, because two different words are used.
* Peter, or
* Peter's confession -- "Thou art the Christ..." (v.16).
Peter -- or Petros (masculine gender), a small stone or piece of rock.
rock -- or petra (feminine gender), a huge foundation boulder.
Consider: Jesus said, "Thou art Peter (Petros), "a little stone", and upon this rock (petra), "a big boulder", I will build my church" (Matt. 16:18). Notice, Jesus did not say that he would build his church upon Peter (Petros), "a little stone" but declared that it would be upon the rock (petra). The rock (petra) "foundation boulder" upon which Christ built his church was the mighty foundation fact declared by Peter, "Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God." Thus, the church of Christ rests not upon the weakness of a mortal human being (Peter), but on the strength of God's son.
Additional References Support the Conclusion:
* Paul declared, "Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Christ" (I Cor. 3:11).
* Also, "Being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner stone" (Eph. 2:20). See also I Peter 2:6.
* God, through the prophet Isaiah said, "Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation" (Isaiah 28:16).
* The Lord Jesus Christ applied this prophecy (Isaiah 28:16) to Himself. (Matt. 21:42).
* The apostle Peter also applied the same prophecy to Christ. (Acts 4:11).
Conclusion: Christ said of His church, "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it." They have not and they will not. Why? "It was founded upon a rock" (Matt. 7:25) and that Rock was Christ. Two true foundations, therefore, are Christ and the Bible.
But, what of that which is founded on someone, or something other than Christ? That which is not on the Rock is on the sand, Jesus says.
Identity of the Church
The church that Christ had said he would build (Matt. 16:18) was established in the days of the apostles not long after Jesus' resurrection from the dead. When Peter and the apostles preached about the death, burial and raising of Christ on Pentecost, A.D. 33, the great crowd gathered that day was deeply stirred (Act 2:1-37). So powerful and convincing was the message that 3,000 men and women were baptized for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38-41) that same day. And, by this same process they were added to the church (Acts 2:41-47). Thus, the church had its beginning. Those who were baptized became members
of the church which Jesus bought with His blood (Acts 20:28).
It was known as the church of Christ, i.e, the church that Christ established. Collectively, the churches were called "churches of Christ" (Rom. 16:16). Those who were in the church were called Christians (Acts 11:26). The church was governed by divine authority with Christ as its only head (Eph. 1:22-23; 5:23-24), Christ was the only creed of the early church and the New Testament its only law of faith and practice. Their faith was in Christ and His word was their guide. Each congregation of the church with Christ as its head, had its own elders (always a plurality whose responsibility it was to oversee and nurture the members of the church (I Peter 5:1-3; Phil. 1:1). There were also deacons whose job it was to minister to all.
The early church was united as Christ had prayed (John 17:21). It followed the teachings of the apostles of Christ that they must remain united (I Cor. 1:l0-13).
It worshipped by singing songs of praise to God (without instruments) (Eph. 5:19); by praying to God through Christ (Acts 2:42), by observing the Lord's supper upon the first day of every week (Acts 20:7; by giving on the first day of the week (I Cor. 16:1-2); and by teaching, or preaching the Word of God (I Tim. 4:13).
In order to become members, believers were taught that they must repent of their sins (Lk. 13:3), confess the name of Christ (Rom. 10:10) and be baptized into Christ for the remission, or taking away of their sins (Rom. 6:4; Acts 2:38). Baptism was always by immersion only (Acts 8:38-39; Rom. 6:3-4). And, only those who had believed in Christ and repented of their sins were subjects for baptism (Acts 2:38, Mark 16:16).
Expansion of the Church
The pattern of extension for Christ's church is given in Acts 1:8. "But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth." From this passage we note two things:
Guidance of the Holy Spirit Christ had promised his apostles that when He went away, the Comforter (the Holy Spirit) would come. (John 14:16-18). The Holy Spirit was to:
* Teach them all things (John 14:26).
* Bring to their remembrance all that Jesus had said to them (John 14:26).
* Guide them into all truth (John 16:13).
Therefore, we can be assured that in their writings and teachings, the apostles were not setting forth their own opinions and speculations, but, even as the holy men of God (the prophets) in the Old Testament, they "spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (II Peter 1:21).
One of the greatest comforts for Christians is that of God's promise of perpetual guidance in the Bible. He has not left us to grope and stumble after truth with only our limited reasoning power to guide us. God's own revealed will has come to us -- and through the Holy Spirit.
The apostles of Christ went out in the first century with these calm assurances:
* "For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you" (Matt. 10:20).
* "For the Holy Spirit shall teach you in that very hour what ye ought to say" (Luke 12:12).
Let It Be Remembered: The church was established and spread several years before the New Testament was written. Later, after the New Testament was completed, the Holy Spirit no longer worked in a special way as in the beginning. Today, he works through the written word of God -- the Bible. This topic will be discussed more fully in a later lesson.
Ye Shall Be My Witnesses Jesus gave his disciples their "marching orders" in the Great Commission. You may recall also that the evangelization of the world was one of the works of the church. Let us follow the church as it enjoys unprecedented growth. From an original group of 120 (Acts 1:15) watch it expand.
* "And they that gladly received his world were baptized and the same day there were added unto them about 3,000 souls" (Acts 2:41)
* "Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about 5,000" (Acts 4:4).
* "And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul" (Acts 4:32).
* "And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women" (Acts 5:14).
* "And in those days when the number of the disciples was multiplied..." (Acts 6:1).
* "And the word of God increased; and the number of disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7).
Judea and Samaria
* "And they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles... Therefore, they that were scattered went everywhere preaching the word" (Acts 8:1-4).
* "And the people with one accord gave heed, ... they were baptized both men and women" (Acts 8:6, 12).
* "And preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans" (Acts 8:25).
* "Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and ... were multiplied" (Acts 9:31).
* In Joppa "many believed in the Lord" (Acts 9:42).
Uttermost Parts of the Earth
"In Antioch "much people were added to the Lord ... they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people" (Acts 11:24, 26).
"But the word of the Lord grew and multiplied" (Acts 12:24).
Paul made three missionary journeys which started from the city of Antioch. A great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed" (Acts 14:1). "And some of them believed ... and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few" (Acts 17:4). "Many of the Corinthians hearing believed and were baptized" (Acts 18:8). "So that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks" (Acts 19:10). "So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed" (Acts 19:20).
Summary of the Expansion:
* Paul said, "Verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world" (Romans 10:18).
* To the church at Colosse, he added, "If ye continue in faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached unto every creature under heaven; whereof, I Paul, am made a minister" (Col. 1:23).
With such statements it is of little wonder that history says that in the Roman Empire, before the end of the first century, there were more than six million loyal Christians. (Hardeman, p.46). Tertullian (160-220 A.D.) wrote, "We are of yesterday. Yet we have filled your Empire, your cities, your towns, your islands, your tribes, your camps, castles, palaces, assemblies, and senates." By the end of the 3rd century, Christians numbered about one-half of the population of the Roman Empire. (Halley, p. 866).
Consider: With the proper foundation (Christ) and the guidance of the Holy Spirit through the spoken word of God, the early Christians literally "turned the world upside down." (Acts 17:6). You will note that the growth was more than in numbers. Count the times it says that the word of God grew, or increased. Growth in numbers was in numbers is attributed to the growth and increase of God's word.
Halley, H.H., Bible Handbook, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1962.
Hardeman, N.B., Hardenman's Tabernacle Sermons.
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