Lesson 12: The History of the Church

The Church of the Bible

Biblical Record

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, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe 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,

"Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth" (1 Timothy 4:1-3).

In speaking to the elders of the church at Ephesus, Paul said,

"Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears" (Acts 20:28-31).

2nd to 19th Centuries

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 leadership structure 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.

Recent History

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 in what has become known as the Restoration Movement.

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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    Choose the correct answer:
  1. True     False   The gospel had gone into all the world during the times of the apostles.
  2. True     False   The church did not grow very fast when it first started.
  3. True     False   Many Christians were put to death because of their belief in Jesus.
  4. True     False   The Restoration movement was to make the church like it was in the Bible.
  5. True     False   The church of the Bible has always been since the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and will be forever.
  6. Paul made how many missionary journeys?
  7. The church was first persecuted in
  8. When the church was persecuted in Jerusalem, the disciples went
  9. The church first departed from God's Word in
  10. started the Reformation movement.
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