The History Of The Church

Isaiah foretold the establishment of the church. From Jerusalem the law of the Lord would go forth into all the world: "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. 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" (Isaiah 2:2,3).

Jesus said He would build His church (Matthew 16:18). On the Day of Pentecost the church was established (Acts 2) and within a short time there were more than 5000 disciples (Acts 4:4).

"A great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria" (Acts 8:1). "Those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word" (Acts 8:4).

A group of refugees went to Antioch. They went to work and there was the church in Antioch (Acts 11:26). It was from there that the gospel was carried forth to the heathen world (Acts 13:2). As a result there were churches with elders in Asia Minor (Acts 14:23). Paul left Asia and went to Europe. He preached at Philippi. There was a functioning church there at once (Philippians 4:15). Paul carried the gospel to poverty stricken Thessalonica. There was a functioning church there. We read: "remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thes. 1:3).

Men and women learned the truth, and then in the churches they laboured so that the gospel was preached in all creation (Col. 1:23).

God's way is the right way.

Men left that way and the church was practically lost to the world for hundreds of years.

History reveals that men corrupted the church. It was so prophesied. Paul warned the elders at Ephesus: "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" (Acts 20:29,30). Peter also said this would happen: "But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed" (2 Peter 2:1,2).

It was not intended that God's law in the New Testament ever be changed. Jude warns: "I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). Again God's word says: "Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son" (2 John 9). The pen of inspiration is about to be laid down and God has this to say: "I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (Revelation 22:18,19).

The four Gospels tell of Christ's life on earth. The rest of the New Testament explains the work of His church. From before the foundation of the world it was the will of God that all the redeemed might be gathered together in Christ (Eph. 1:3-10). He is the head of the church which is His body (Eph. 1:22,23). There is only one body (Eph. 4:4). No religious work is now acceptable to God unless it is done 'in the Lord' (Romans 16:12; Matt. 7:21-23).

That the work of God should be carried on in the church was the eternal purpose of God (Eph. 3:10,11). This is God's plan to be followed until the end of time. Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). In our New Testament we have the divine pattern.

In the New Testament we are told, as we have quoted above, that men would corrupt this divine plan. In fact the Holy Spirit says in one of the first letters written that the mystery of lawlessness was already at work (2 Thes. 2:7).

Men began to rule in the church where Christ alone was supposed to rule. The teachings of the New Testament were changed. The baptism of penitent believers (Acts 2:38) was changed to infant baptism. This command was further changed when sprinkling was substituted for immersion (Romans 6:3,4). There were literally hundreds of ways in which the divine pattern was changed.

Through the centuries efforts to correct these human practices were opposed by sword and flame. Time would fail us to tell this long and sad story. Through the centuries the Bible was practically taken away from the people.

However, a few brave souls dared to read it and dared to speak out against the corruption that had grown up. Through the study of the Word of God, the Protestant Reformation was born. The reformers had two great mottoes: "The Bible, the faith of the Christian," and "The Universal Priesthood of All Believers." These mottoes were right. However, they failed to live up to their own mottoes. An open Bible was a good thing, but most of them established denominations which were as creed-bound as the church they had left. Most of them had an exclusive clergy, just as the Catholics had.

Records remain, however, of men in both Europe and America, who realized that God was not being properly served by any human institution. They sought not to reform existing institutions, but to restore the New Testament church.

This is not an easy task. God's ways are not man's ways (Isaiah 55:8). It is not in man who walks to direct his steps (Jeremiah 10:23). If the task is to be accomplished, men must be prompted by a living faith (James 2:14-26). They must submit to the authority of Christ as expressed in the New Testament. They must realize that every plant God has not planted will be rooted up (Matt. 15:13).

Anyone who has read the New Testament knows that the church as established by Christ suffered terrible persecution. This is part of God's plan. Listen to the language of inspiration: "I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church" (Col. 1:24).

When people in the church are no longer willing to suffer for Christ, they soon go into digression.

This work of restoring the church made great progress in the U.S.A. during the last century. Hundreds of thousands were baptized into the body of Christ. They worshipped and served God according to the New Testament.

But as the church grew, the number also grew who were 'at ease in Zion' (Amos 6:1). They did not want to "go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach" (Hebrews 13:13). They wanted to be accepted by the religious world around them.

People arose who said that whatever was not forbidden in Scripture, was allowed. This argument led to the introduction of instrumental music in worship, the establishment of central organizations, and all kinds of departures from the word of God.

Most congregations were eventually dominated by such thinking. Only in the Southern United States was there a significant number who refused to go along with this human philosophy. They were poor, very poor, but they stood by the way of the Lord. From their deep poverty has come work that now encircles the globe. Their faith was in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Within a few short decades, apostacy became widespread among the churches started by the apostles of our Lord. So in every age there are those who would depart from the way of the Lord.

Now the gospel is being preached throughout the world. A great host have surrendered their lives to Christ. Will they continue in the way of the Lord or will they go back to the ways of men?

Each one must decide for himself. I cannot decide for you. It depends on your faith. The grace of God is sufficient. Through Christ "we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand" (Rom. 5:1,2).

J. C. Bailey

Published in The Old Paths Archive (