Several days ago, a Catholic gentleman sent me a private Facebook message in which he argues that “the church of Christ began in the 20th century.” The implication is that it is not the original church.
This argument has been used by Catholics for years to discredit the Lord’s church. As an example of this, a man in Seville, Spain once asked me, “Why are you in our country teaching people about God? Your country [i.e., the United States] has been in existence for less than two hundred fifty years. Spain and the Catholic Church have been around for two thousand.”
The purpose of this article is not to show how long the Catholic Church has been in existence but rather to consider what the Bible says about the church that Christ established. What Jesus says about something should be of primary importance to us, regardless of what any religious group has to say about the matter. According to the Scriptures, when exactly did Jesus begin his church and what are some of its identifying marks?
Before delving a little more into this topic, it’s important to understand that the church is simply the assembly of saved people who have been called out of the world by the gospel (Acts 2:39; 1 Corinthians 1:26-29; Ephesians 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9). It is made up of individuals who have obeyed Christ’s conditions in order to receive forgiveness of sins and who persevere in his word. (More on this in part 2.)
According to the Scriptures, the church built by Christ did not originate in any man-made campaign or movement but in the first century (Matthew 16:18, Romans 16:16). Since then, she has always existed, although at times has been harshly persecuted and dispersed throughout the world (Acts 8:1-4). Despite the efforts of men to destroy it and deny its existence, Christ said that “the gates of Hades [that is, death] will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18, NASB).
What all this means is that Jesus established his church around 29 A.D., almost two thousand years ago! No, it did not begin in the 19th or 20th century.
This momentous event occurred on the day of Pentecost, approximately fifty days after Christ’s resurrection from the dead, when about three thousand souls believed, repented, and were baptized (immersed in water) “for the forgiveness of … sins” (Acts 2:36-38,41,47). From this point on in the Bible’s chronology, the church is presented as something already in existence (Acts 5:11; 8:1-3; 9:31; 11:26; 14:23; Romans 16:1,5,16,23; etc.).
God can also add you to the number of the saved. Why not obey his conditions and be forgiven today (2 Corinthians 6:2)?