The History of the Church
The Church of the Bible, Lesson 12 of 13
In Acts 2, we find the establishment, or beginning of the Lord's church, or kingdom. The apostles are in Jerusalem. The Spirit is poured out upon them. Many nations are represented. They are gathered for Pentecost. Peter and the apostles proclaim that this is the fulfillment of that which was spoken by the prophet Joel. Christ has died. The last days have begun. Repentance and remission of sins are preached. About 3000 souls believe the preaching of the Gospel and are baptized. The Lord adds them to His church. Then from Jerusalem, the Gospel goes throughout Judea, then to Samaria, and finally, unto all parts of the earth until every person under heaven had heard it (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 1:8; Colossians 1:23).
The church grew fast in the days of the apostles. It spread rapidly. After the conversion of Paul, he made three missionary journeys. He preached the Gospel to the Jews and to the Gentiles as well. As a result, there were many converts. Many congregations of the Lord's church were established throughout Asia and Europe. But this was not easy. There was much persecution. First the church began to be persecuted in Jerusalem. Because of this, the disciples were scattered and went everywhere preaching the Word (Acts 8:1-4). As time went by, the Romans blamed the Christians for many of their problems. They punished them in their arenas in Rome and throughout the Roman world. Paul was finally imprisoned. He was taken to Rome for trial. History tells us that all the apostles except John were martyred for the cause of Christ. Hundreds, and thousands, and perhaps millions, of Christians also lost their lives for Christ.
In spite of the persecution, the church only grew and spread. It was not persecution that gave the most trouble to the church. It was what took place within the church itself. The apostle Paul told of the day in which there would be a falling away. In other words, he was saying that the day would come in which many of the members of the Lord's church would go into error. But let us notice what he says: "Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him; to the end that ye be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord is just at hand; let no man beguile (deceive) you in any wise: for it will not be, except the falling away come first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, he that opposeth and exalteth himself against all that is called God or that is worshipped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know that which restraineth, to the end that he may be revealed in his own season. For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work: only there is one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of his coming; even he, whose coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceit of unrighteousness for them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12). Notice Paul said that this evil was already beginning to work among them even at that time. He continues, "But the Spirit saith expressly, that in later times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, through the hypocrisy of men that speak lies, branded in their own conscience as with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by them that believe and know the truth." (1 Timothy 4:1-3). In speaking to the elders of the church at Ephesus, Paul said, "Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood. I know that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Wherefore watch ye, remembering that by the space of three years I ceased not to admonish every one night and day with tears." (Acts 20:28-31).
As Paul warned, there were those from within the church that rose up and began to lead away many of the followers of Christ. History tells us that the falling away began with an attack on the government of the church. The Lord's plan was that each congregation should be independent of the others. It was to have its own elders and deacons. However, as time passed many of these congregations began to exalt one elder or bishop over the others. Finally, they permitted one of these bishops to rule over several congregations. Eventually, that one was then appointed the universal bishop over the entire church. Of course this didn't happen overnight. It took many years. By 606 A.D. the first Universal Bishop became the head, or the Pope, of the apostate sector of the church. The result was the Catholic Church as we know it today. What happened to the Lord's church? The faithful few continued. The Lord had promised that His kingdom or church would stand forever. It has done so.
As far as the religious world was concerned, the Catholic Church dominated. It so controlled the world that the next several hundred years came to be known as the "Dark Ages." This was because the Catholic Church refused to allow the Bible to be read by the common people. They said that only the priests were qualified to read and understand the Bible. They then would tell the people what the Bible taught. This meant that the priest, told the people only what they wanted them to know.
During this period of time, even the Catholic Church divided into the Roman and Greek branches. They divided over such teachings as sprinkling and instrumental music. As time went by, the Roman Catholic Church through her councils, etc., added many other doctrines and teachings to her system. Finally, by the sixteenth century, the Catholic Church had become very corrupt doctrinally and morally. A man by the name of Martin Luther sought to reform the Catholic Church . He himself was a priest . However, he was excommunicated. He left the church to teach and practice that which he thought was right. Out of this came what is known as the Reformation Movement, or Protestantism. Out of that came what we know to be modern day denominationalism. Luther caused an attempt in many parts of the world to return to the Bible. In spite of this, they did not fully succeed.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there were denominational people in Europe and America who grew tired of division and confusion. They began to leave the errors they were in and return fully to the Bible. Their desire was not to begin a new church. They wanted to return to the church they could read about in the Bible. This they did. Since that time, the plea for pure New Testament Christianity has been heard around the world. Millions have left the teachings of men to simply be Christians, and members of the Lord's church with the Bible as their only guide. Christians, going into all parts of the world to preach the truth, have discovered the church in its purity already existing in parts of Africa, India, Russia, Poland, and many other places. That church, therefore, exists today as it has always existed. It is not necessary to trace it all the way back to the beginning to prove that it is the one church of the Bible. When we follow the Bible, we are the Lord's church. The seed is the word of God (Luke 8:11). It produces the same thing today that it produced in the days of the apostles- Christians and members of Christ's church. We know the Lord's kingdom was to stand forever. It has therefore been in existence somewhere ever since the day it was established. It will continue to stand forever. No man or devil has the power to destroy it. This is the Lord's kingdom, His church. It is victorious from beginning to end. It will be with the Lord forever.
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