One of the most widely held notions concerning the
church is that it had its origin on the Day of Pentecost, fifty
days after the resurrection of Christ. This theory has been
popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible, and has gained
numerous adherents among the non-denominational brethren.
What is more to the point, it has made inroads into Baptist
ranks and has misled those of our brethren who are prone to
accept a plausible theory without seriously questioning it.
It is beyond argument that the Day of Pentecost was indeed an eventful occasion. It is also beyond dispute that the church was empowered for its work and that new doors were opened to its entrance on that day. However, there is not the slightest suggestion that the church was brought into existence on that occasion. The church was, in fact, baptized in the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Are we to believe that it was born and baptized on the same day? No Scripture so indicates. The truth is that the church existed before Pentecost. It was founded by Jesus, himself, during his personal ministry, and was composed of the twelve apostles with Jesus as their pastor and head. There were others at this time who believed on Jesus, but they did not belong to the church until after the resurrection. The membership of the church by the Day of Penteccost had increased from eleven to one hundred and twenty.
Why were these other believers not members of the church? The answer is that the church, during the earthly ministry of Jesus, needed to be a highly mobile group since it must follow Jesus through Judaea, Samaria and Galilee. The membership must be restricted to those who were both willing and able to forsake all and follow him. See Matthew 19:27.
The church's purpose at that time was not to preach the gospel, and baptize and indoctrinate the saved. That work would come later. It was rather to serve as a training school- training the Apostles in the business of managing and carrying on the work of the church. That this statement is true is proved by the subsequent events as recorded in the Book of Acts. Long before Paul, the writer of church truth, was ever converted, the Apostles at Jerusalem knew how a church and its work should be conducted. There is no need to assume that they were being given instant guidance by the Holy Spirit; they had already been trained by the Pastor of pastors, the Lord Jesus, himself!
Not all of the instructions given to the apostolic members of the infant church are recorded, since the Apostle Paul was to treat of such matters in his writings. However, we are given at least one glimpse of the church training course given to the Apostles by the Master. See Matthew 18:15-17:
"Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican."
In the above passage the verbs translated shall trespass, will hear, etc., are in the subjunctive aorist in the Greek; thus the translation should read:
"If thy brother trespass against thee," etc.
The tense indicates that Jesus was not giving instructions which were to become effective only at a later date; but was, on the contrary, giving instructions which were immediately effective. This passage indicates beyond question that there was in existence at the time a church to tell it to! However, the objection will no doubt be raised that only two chapters previous to the above passage Jesus is quoted as saying:
"... upon this rock I will build my church..."
The point of the objection is that since Jesus used the
future tense in this pronouncement, he must have been stating
the founding of the church as a future action on his part.
However, this objection has little, if any, force when it is
realized that the word translated will build is not synonymous
with will establish, will found, will bring into being; or with any
similar expression. The word is oikodomeo and it is used both
literally and metaphorically in the New Testament. According
to the Greek Lexicon of Arndt and Gingrich, it signifies: to
build, to erect. However, according to its usage, it connoted not
merely the initial work of laying a foundation, but also referred
to the continuing effort expended to bring the work to
completion. Thus the word properly means to build up, and is
so translated in I Peter 2:5. It was natural for Jesus to use the
future tense since by far the greater part of the work of building
up the church still lay in the future.
The word translated church in the New Testament is always ekklesia, a word which is derived from ek (out of) and kaleo (to call). The resulting noun means a called-out assembly (or assembly of called-out ones); and is used in the New Testament to denote the assembly of believers in Christ, the assembly of Israelites in the wilderness, and an unruly meeting of townspeople in the city of Ephesus.
Certainly the Apostles, who were called out of the world and away from their secular pursuits by the voice of Jesus, himself, have a claim upon the word ekklesia which will be hard to deny. If any body of people have ever deserved to be denoted a called-out assembly, the Apostles, with Jesus as their head, must surely be given that distinction.
The Apostles as a group are several times referred to (usually by Jesus) as a flock. This same term is elsewhere several times applied to the church. Note the following passages:
Referring to the Apostles:
"Fear not, little flock, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom."
"Then Jesus said unto them, all ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad."
Referring to the church:
"Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock."
"The elders which are among you I exhort who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed. Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock."
I Peter 5:1-3.
Note in the passage from Acts the identification of the
flock with the church. Thus the term which is applied to a
church in the post-resurrection era, was applied to the Apostles
in the pre-resurrection period.
According to Baptist belief, strongly supported by New Testament usage, a church may be described as a body of baptized believers, organized to carry out the instructions of the Lord. Again, no group on the earth can lay a more valid claim to the term church in this sense than can the Apostles. While they may not have possessed everything which some churches deem essential today, the Apostles did have everything which a church actually needs. According to Philippians 1:1, the organization of a New Testament Church consisted of the saints, or lay members, along with the bishop, or elder(s) and deacons. The Apostles fit this pattern precisely.
They had a head; that is, one who directed their activities; and that head was Christ, himself. Furthermore, the references to the twelve in the Gospels show plainly that they were not a disorganized group of miscellaneous individuals; but that they were, rather, an organized unit or body. In fact, the very term The Twelve applied collectively to them, indicates as much.
Moreover, the Apostles were believers in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, as witness Peter's confession in Matthew 16:16, in answer to the question of Jesus: "But whom say ye that lam?" See also John 6:68-69. Of course, Judas did not share in that faith, but he appeared to do so. There was a hypocrite in the first church just as there are hypocrites in the churches of today.
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The Apostles were also baptized. When a successor to Judas was to be chosen, one of the requirements for a candidate was that he be one who had an intimate acquaintance with the work of Jesus and the Twelve. Specifically, he must be, in the words of Peter, one of the men:
"... which have companied with us all the time that the Lord
Jesus went in and out among us. Beginning from the
baptism of John unto the same day that he was taken up
Most Baptists understand this to mean that the candidate
must have been baptized by John, the Baptist, and must also
have seen the risen Lord. These qualifications argue powerfully
that the Twelve also were baptized by John; and although their
baptism as individuals is not mentioned, no serious Bible
student would deny that they were so baptized.
Like any other church, the Apostolic Church had a pastor. The very word pastor has been taken over into English from the Latin without change. Its meaning is shepherd and it is exactly equivalent to the Greek poimen which is translated shepherd seventeen times, and pastor one time, in the King James Version. The word is applied to Christ as the shepherd or pastor of the Apostolic flock in the following passages:
"Then saith Jesus unto them, all ye shall be offended because
of me this night; for it is written, I will smite the shepherd
and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad."
"I am the good shepherd: The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep."
"And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice: and there shall be one fold (flock) and one shepherd."
The Apostolic Church also had a treasurer before Pentecost, as proved by the following passages:
"This he (Judas) said, not that he cared for the poor; but
because he was a thief and had the bag, and bare what was
"And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him. That thou doest, do quickly. Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake into him. For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or that he should give something to the poor."
The Apostolic Church before Pentecost had the two ordinances that churches have observed throughout the centuries. According to John 4:1-2, the Apostles practiced disciple baptism:
"When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples.)"
We have hypothesized that one reason for the limited
membership of the primitive church was that it was in fact, a
training school for future leadership. This hypothesis is wholly
consistent with the fact given above, that Jesus delegated the
act of baptizing new disciples to the Apostles. One of the best
ways to learn is by doing; thus Jesus taught the Apostles how to
baptize new converts by actually giving them the experience of
As for the Lord's Supper, it was first observed by the church as composed of Jesus and the Apostles. Baptists believe (with good reason) that this ordinance is strictly a church matter; that it is properly observed, not by the individual members of the church as such; but by the collective membership of the church as one entity. If this view is correct, and if the Apostles did not constitute a church, then we have a contradiction between the view that it is a church ordinance and the fact that it was first observed by Jesus and the Apostles. Concerning that occasion Luke records:
"And he (Jesus) took bread, and gave thanks and brake it,
and gave unto them saying, This is my body, which is given
for you; this do in remembrance of me."
The verb do in the last clause is present imperative,
which in Greek commands the continued performance of the
action denoted by the verb. Therefore, the sense here is keep
on doing this.
Plainly, the Apostles were given instructions to keep on observing the Lord's Supper. If they did not constitute the church at that time, then the church never (according to the record) received any instructions to observe the Lord's Supper; and apparently the Apostles, and they alone, were to continue observing the Supper!
At a later date the Apostle Paul gave instructions to the church at Corinth concerning how the Lord's Supper should be observed. The churches had been observing the Supper during the interim, but some were doing so in the wrong manner. Thus we find that an ordinance which was given to the Apostles with instructions to keep on doing it, is later found being observed by the various churches; even though no separate instructions had been given them as far as the record indicated. The above facts argue powerfully that the post-Pentecostal church was not a new entity but rather a continuation of the pre-Pentecostal church composed of Jesus and the Apostles. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, the church was enlarged, empowered by the Holy Spirit and baptized in, and indwelt by, that same Spirit.
This conclusion is further borne out by the fact that the Great Commission (which the churches have always regarded as their marching orders) was actually given to the (eleven) Apostles after the resurrection of Christ, but definitely before the Day of Pentecost. The giving of the commission is recorded in Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15-18, Luke 24:45-49, and Acts 1:4-8.
These passages clearly indicate that the entity receiving the commission must transcend the borders of Judaism and go to the uttermost parts of the earth. Now if this commission, with its emphasis on a world wide ministry, was given to the Apostles as such; then we are faced with the rather embarrassing fact that they largely ignored it. When the first persecutions arose against the Christians in Jerusalem, the membership of the church was widely scattered and they "went everywhere, preaching the word." However, the Apostles are noted as an exception to that statement. They remained in Jerusalem. The exact words are:
"And at that time there was a great persecution against the
church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered
abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria,
except the Apostles."
"Therefore, they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word."
Even as late as A.D. 52 (twenty years after Pentecost) we
find in Acts fifteen that the Apostles are still settled down in
Jerusalem. Thus we conclude that while the church did carry
out the commission, the Apostles, as individuals, did not.
The early church in the persons of the eleven Apostles received the indwelling Holy Spirit before the Day of Pentecost:
"And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith
unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost."
On the day of Pentecost, the church was baptized (not
by the Holy Spirit, but in, or with the Holy Spirit) and was
empowered by the Spirit to undertake the new phase of its
work - that of carrying the gospel to the uttermost parts of the
earth. In addition, those who were not of the eleven received
the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as the eleven had previously.
It is a reasonable assumption that the Apostles were instructed to receive other believers into the membership of the church after the resurrection of Christ. Thus, just prior to the Day of Pentecost there were about one hundred twenty believers present in one house. This assembly held a business meeting and elected a successor to Judas before the Day of Pentecost. While some critics assert that this was an erroneous move on the part of the group and one which was not led of the Lord, there is not one particle of evidence to prove that they were acting in self-will. It is true that Matthias is not mentioned by name thereafter, but for that matter, neither are most of the original apostles. However, after the selection of Matthias the expression The Twelve is used by the sacred writer to refer to the Apostles (Acts 6:2) instead of the The Eleven.
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The Apostolic Church also had deacons de facto, if not
de jure. The word deacon practically transliterates the Greek
word diakonos. This word denotes servant and besides referring
to the church office of deacon, it also is used to refer to
preachers as servants of Christ, of the church and of the
Gospel. When used in this sense it is usually translated
It is common belief that the seven men referred to in the sixth chapter of Acts were the first deacons, even though the word diakonos is not used with reference to them. (The verb form of the word is used as is also the noun diakonia which might be translated service or deaconship). Little doubt exists that these men really were deacons; yet it is by no means proved that they were the first deacons. The passage itself indicates that there is in the church a deaconship of tables, i.e., of secular matters; and also a deaconship of the Word, i.e., of spiritual matters. Viz:
"Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto
them and said, It is not reason that we should leave the
word of God and serve (diakoneo) tables."
The word diakoneo is the verb form of the word for deacon. Note also the following passage:
"But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and the
ministry (diakonia) of the word."
Thus those whom we call deacons are servants of the church in
secular matters. Those whom we call ministers are servants of
Christ in spiritual matters. The word translated minister in I
Cor. 3:5; II Cor. 3:6, 6:4,11:15 & 25; Eph. 3:7, etc., is diakonos.
The Apostles as the first church had their deacons or secular servants in the persons of Peter, James and John. In proof of this statement note the following facts:
Both Matthew and Mark record the request made of Jesus by James and John that they might sit on his right hand and on his left, in the Kingdom. See Matthew 20:20-26 and Mark 10:35-43. In answering Jesus said:
"But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;"
The word translated minister is diakonos or deacon.
On another occasion the disciples were discussing the question of who was the greatest among them. Jesus remarked:
"If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all
and servant of all."
Here, again, the word servant is diakonos, or deacon.
That both James and John, as well as Peter, chose this path to greatness is strongly attested to by the fact that they did indeed become the servants of the church. It is a matter of record that the two disciples sent ahead to prepare the last passover were Peter and John. See Luke 22:8. This is certainly a menial work, having to do with the service which a deacon was expected to perform. The fact that these two disciples were sent on such a mission is a strong indication that they (along with James) were the ones who had expressed their willingness to take on such tasks in accordance with the statements of Jesus in Matthew 20:26, 23:11; Mark 9:35 and 10:43.
The deacons are not only the servants of a church, they are also (at least in the ideal situation) the close intimates and confidantes of the pastor. The qualifications laid down for deacons in the New Testament show that they are not mere menials in the church, but are men full of the Holy Spirit, who hold the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.
Next to the pastor, himself, they are likely to be the most spiritual men in the church. As such, they spend more time with the minister and have a more intimate rapport with him than do the other members of the church. They are usually a buffer group between the pastor and the church, interpreting and communicating the thinking of the church to the pastor. This is exactly the pattern illustrated by the relationship between Jesus and the three apostles, Peter, James and John. The following facts reveal that there was an intimate relationship between Jesus and the above-mentioned three, which did not include the other Apostles:
Eventually, James the brother of Jesus, became pastor of
the church and Peter accordingly becomes less prominent.
However, up to that point the indications are that Peter, as
what might now be called Chairman of the Board of Deacons
was serving as interim pastor of the church.
To sum up, then, it is evident to an unbiased mind that the church, in the persons of the Apostles, existed before Pentecost; and that the events on the Day of Pentecost were merely the baptism and empowering of a church which was already in existence.
Consider the following points carefully:
John H Mattox