How Well Do We Know The History of The New Testament Church?

Sun, Nov 12, 2017
Teacher: Tom Blackford
Passage: Romans 15:4
Duration:34 mins

Message text

How Well Do We Know The History of The N.T. Church?
Lesson One - An Introduction

Good evening. This evening I am going to switch from lessons in the book of Amos. My reason for this is it will not be long before we start our class on Amos on Wednesday evenings. We have got a little taste for what Amos is about and who he is so I’m going to put that aside for now, and look at something which I think will be both interesting and challenging. How well do we know the history of the New Testament church? Or “How well do we know the church that belongs to the Lord?”

We as Christians have the desire to learn the whole truth of God—not to add to nor to take away from God’s Word. Therefore, it is important when anyone presents a lesson that we examine it to make sure that what is being said is in fact true. That is our responsibility as Christians.

One of the things we learn from the New Testament is that even though the Old Testament is not something that is binding on us as to the Law, it has many valuable historical lessons for us.
In Romans 15:4, Paul said “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”

It is said of history that the generation that does not learn from the mistakes of the past is doomed to repeat them—with greater effect. I like that quote because we see time and time again how man does not learn from the experiences of history. The devil doesn’t come in here in a red suit with a pitchfork and say, “I’m going to teach you error. I’m going to lead you astray so you can be with me in hell.” But, little bit by little bit he can lead a whole group away from God.

Let me give you an example; Thinking back a few years to what TV was like and then about where TV is today, can we imagine people in the 1960’s accepting the things that are on today’s television? What has happened, and what continues to happen is that people are willing to accept so much and then we push the boundaries a bit without going over the boundaries. The boundaries keep getting pushed out further and further a bit at a time.

So it is with us today in the church. Instead of learning from the past we are doomed to repeat the same failures. We see congregations that were once considered faithful are not that way anymore.

That is why I feel it is important that we know something about the history of the church and to see what has happened. Remember what the Lord said in Matthew 16:18 – “I will build My church”.

There is the first bit, this is not my church. This is not your church. IT IS the Lord’s church.

How much of the history of the church are we acquainted with? I aim to use this study to take us through many different facets of the church. We’re going to look at the foretelling of the church and the establishment of the church and the church today. Obviously to get this right I’m not going to do it in one lesson. My intent, God willing, is to take it over a number of lessons to give us a working review of what we should know about the church history.

There are people in the denominational world claiming to be Christians, who believe that the church was an afterthought of God. These folks think that when Jesus was rejected and crucified, He couldn’t establish what he came to establish, which was the Kingdom. That makes it important for us to look at what the foretelling of the church actually says and the establishment of it. We will also look in one of the lessons at the 65 year period of the growth of the New Testament church, which we find in the books of Acts through Revelation.

We are going to see that a falling away, an apostasy, is actually foretold. As we move through the timeline, we are going to see this falling away.

Then we’re going to look at several periods of history. We’ll see thorough the Dark Ages that the mind set is already there for the reformation and the restoration. We’re going to talk about the church as we know it today. The New Testament church is protected and preserved by God no matter where you are in history or location. Those who hold to the unadulterated Word of God will be the church that belongs to Jesus Christ.

I admit this is an ambitious set of lessons. I’ll be learning what some of you will find to be review, but I think it will be useful to us so please bear with me.

I. I’ve found there are many misconceptions about what the church actually is. Before we begin we must define what we mean by “the church”.
A. The term "church" is a translation of the Greek term -- "Ekklesia" -- the actual term used by Christ and the Apostles. (ek-klay-see'-ah)
B. 'Ekklesia" is a compound word :
1. From "ek", meaning out of,
2. and "klesis" meaning a calling (Kaleo, to call)....Vine's. When a person says, “I’m going to church”, people may think that person is religious, but the term ekklesia was not a religious term.
i. According to the Englishman’s Greek Concordance the term ekklesia, is used in one form or another 115 times in the N.T.
ii. It is generally used as a collective noun.
3. This term was applied by the Greeks to any group of people called out from their business or homes for a purpose: We might say that those who are going to the Super Bowl are a church. They are an assembly. They are a congregation for they have been called out for a specific purpose—to watch the Super Bowl.
i. That is the way the term is used in Acts 19:39 – “But if you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly.” [NKJ]. The term lawful assembly there is ekklesia. (ek-klay-see'-ah)
ii. If you look over in Acts 19:32, 41 the term ekklesia is used to describe a riotous mob.
(a) Acts 19:32 – “Some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the assembly was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together.”[NKJ]. This time the term is used to in describing a riotous mob—a group of people who were confused as to the reason for them coming out.
(b) Acts 19:41 – “And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.” [NKJ]. Again ekklesia.
iii. We find this term is used in the Septuagint, which was a translation of the Hebrew scriptures made for Greek speaking Jews in the 3rd and 2nd century B.C.
(a) Judges 21:8 – “And they said, "What one is there from the tribes of Israel who did not come up to Mizpah to the Lord?'' And, in fact, no one had come to the camp from Jabesh Gilead to the assembly.” [NKJ] In the Septuagint that is ekklesia. They came out for a purpose. The word ekklesia is not particularly religious but simply refers to a people who are assembled because they are called out.
(b) 1 Chronicles 29:1 – “Furthermore King David said to all the congregation: (the word in the Septuagint for congregation is ekklesia) "My son Solomon, whom alone God has chosen, is young and inexperienced; and the work is great, because the temple is not for man but for the Lord God.”[NKJ].
(c) In Steven’s address Acts 7:38 – “This is he who was in the congregation (the word ekklesia) in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us,” [NKJ]
C. When we get to the New Testament the term "church" signifies a whole lot more than just “a called out body”. Now we are talking religiously to the way in which this Greek word is applied to that which Jesus said, “I will build”. That is the church of Christ. When I talk about it that way I’m not using it as a title, but as the called out in Christ, and it has a much more restrictive and important significance.
1. This word is used by our Lord to describe His body of redeemed people... “I will build my church”. Matthew 16:18 – “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”
2. It is also used to describe those who are immersed believers who have been called out from the world, and associate themselves together to worship God, the way we are right now, "in Spirit and in Truth."....John 4:24. I suggest to you that one of the things we’re going to be looking for when we start looking at the church of our Lord through the Dark Ages, is those who are the immersed believers that rejected the teachings of men.
3. The term church is the spiritual house over which Christ reigns as Head and in which the Holy Spirit dwells.
i. Let’s look at Ephesians 1:22-23 – “And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” [NKJ] and in which the Holy Spirit dwells...
ii. 1 Peter 2:5 – “you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”[NKJ]
iii. 1 Peter 2:9 – “you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” [NKJ]
iv. 1 Corinthians 3:9 – “For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, you are God's building.” Note it is a spiritual house.
A. A material building:
1. The wood and siding that make up our building, the shingles that are on our building, those things do not comprise the church. Paul said to the Corinthians “you are God’s building”.
2. Acts 17:24 – “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands.”
B. It is not an earthly kingdom: - That’s something that people today do not understand but Pilate understood it. People are looking for a worldly kingdom where Christians will be the power over the world. Pilate when he was questioning Jesus asked Jesus if He was a king.
1. John 18:36-37 – “36. Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.'' 37. Pilate therefore said to Him, "Are You a king then?'' Jesus answered, "You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate understood this. How do I know Pilate understood this? Because he went out and said, “I find no fault”. If it was physical kingdom it could be a danger to the Roman Empire, and Pilate would have acted differently. Although it is made up in the physical realm of physical individuals it is not a physical kingdom.
2. People did not understand that. We read in the N.T. that the people were thinking in terms of a physical kingdom. In John 6:15 – “Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to a mountain by Himself alone.”[NKJ]
3. In some states if you want to get a license to solemnize a marriage, one of the questions that they want to know on the application is the church’s headquarters. One of the easiest things to do is to answer it Biblically—heaven. However the person taking the application is likely to say, “We need a physical address.” Most churches have some type of physical location—headquarters. We are not a physical kingdom with a physical king here on earth. Our headquarters spiritual. Our king is sitting at the right hand of God in heaven.
C. It is not a Jewish Assembly : We need to understand this. When we talk about the Jewish assembly Jesus said in;
1. John 10:16 – “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” [NKJ] If I asked you how many of us are Jews? Would anyone be able to say, Yes, I am a Jew by birth? Probably not. When we’re talking about the church we’re not talking about a Jewish assembly. We are talking about other sheep I have that are not of this flock.
2. Two more parts of scripture I want to look at; Ephesians 2:14-16 – “14. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of division between us, 15. having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16. and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.”
3. And Galatians 3:7 – “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.”
4. Jesus has removed the wall between us.
D. It is not a denomination : - It is not a denomination because Jesus said, in;
1. Matthew 16:18 – “... I will build My church...” Denominations are founded and built by men. That is not what the church of the New Testament is.
2. Colossians 1:18 – “And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.”
3. Ephesians 1:20-23 – “which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21. far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. 22. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23. which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”
E. It is not a political organization: - We don’t stand here to insight people politically to vote for one party or another. We’re here to encourage individuals to get to heaven.
1. We are told in 1 Peter 2:13-17 – “13. Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14. or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men 16. as free, yet not using your liberty as a cloak for vice, but as servants of God. 17. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.”
2. And remember this in Matthew 22:17-21 – “17. "Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?'' 18. But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, "Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? 19. "Show Me the tax money.'' So they brought Him a denarius. 20. And He said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?'' 21. They said to Him, "Caesar's.'' And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.”
F. It is certainly not a business institution: - There are churches that are fully enveloped in business. By that I mean, they have day care center, schools and hospitals and universities and all sorts of things. It is a business enterprise. The church is not about eating and drinking.
1. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 – “1. Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: 2. On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper...” [NKJ] It is not in the buying and selling of things that the income of the church is derived. It is by the free will offering of the people. People make up some interesting justifications here. They say; well the people gave freely of baked goods, or unneeded clothing, or their time and material to cook food. All we did is take the baked goods and have a bake sale or the used clothing and have a tag sale or the food and have a BBQ to raise funds for the church.
2. Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
3. 2 John 9 – “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.”
III. WHAT THE N.T. CHURCH IS: - Since we know what the church is not, it is important to understand then what the church is.
A. It is a spiritual building: - These are repeated verses, but look at them again.
1. As we already mentioned in 1 Peter 2:5 – “you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” [NKJ]
2. 1 Peter 2:9 – “you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;”[NKJ]
3. 1 Corinthians 3:9 – “For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, you are God's building.”[NKJ]
4. The church is a spiritual building. You are the living stones. If someone wants to destroy the church, they cannot bring a bulldozer and bulldoze this building and say “I have destroyed the church that meets here in Chardon”. If they were going to destroy the church they would have to destroy the living stones—the spiritual building.
B. The church is a Heavenly Kingdom:.
1. Romans 14:17 – “for the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” [NKJ].
2. John 3:5 – “"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”[NKJ]
3. Colossians 1:13-14 – “13. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, 14. in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” [NKJ]
C. It is a general assembly: Look at how it is referred to in Galatians 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” [NKJ] It is a general assembly. I am a US citizen, but far more important then my claim to US citizenship, I am a child of God. That is foremost in our lives.
D. It is The Lord’s church:
1. Again in Matthew 16:18 – “... I will build My church... ”
2. And Ephesians 1:20-23 – “20. which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21. far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. 22. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23. which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” [NKJ]
3. It is that to which the Lord added in Acts 2:47 – “praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” He added those who were being saved to the church—the body of Jesus Christ.
E. It is an evangelistic organization: As opposed to being a business organization it is an evangelistic organization.
1. It is in keeping with the command of God to go into all the world and preach the gospel. The church’s mission is a further extension of the mission of Jesus Christ, and that is to seek and save those which are lost. Sometimes people look at the church and think that its main function is entertainment. That’s not the main function. In fact, that’s not even a function of the church. The main function of the church is evangelism and edification.
2. Ephesians 3:10 – “to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places,” [NKJ]
3. 1 Timothy 3:14-15 – “14. These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; 15. but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”
4. Mark 16:15-16 – “15. And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.
5. 16. "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”
F. The church is an edification institution: - It is a group that is involved with edifying itself and building itself up in the nurture of the Word of God.
1. Ephesians 4:12-16 – “12. for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13. till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14. that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive, 15. but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head Christ 16. from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” [NKJ]
2. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 – “Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.”
IV. How then is the term church used in the Bible? The term church is used in a general sense to designate all the saved as indicated in Matthew 16:18.
A. Then we read in Ephesians 1:22 – “He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church,”.
B. Ephesians 5:25 tells us of Christ’s love and sacrifice for the church. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it,”
C. Colossians 1:18 reminds us that Christ is the head of the body, the church.
D. The word church is also used in the sense of a local congregation of God's called out within a definite locality as we see in: I Corinthians 1:2 – “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus...” ; II Corinthians 11:1 - “...To the church of God which is at Corinth...” ; II Thessalonians 1:1 – “...To the church of the Thessalonians...”. That includes also those who where meeting in their homes; Romans 16:5 – “Likewise greet the church that is in their house....” ; Colossians 4:15 – “Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house.” ; Philemon 2 – “to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:”.
E. When we talk about this we recognize that we’re talking about the church as believers coming together.
F. The term church is used in a distributive sense.
1. Distributive meaning: " referring singly and without exception to the members of a group" (dictionary definition)
2. Acts 5:11 ... “fear came upon the church”
3. Acts 8:1 ....”Persecuted the church”.
4. Acts 8:3 .... “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. ---- to every house.”
G. In the fourth sense, and perhaps the most common, the word is used in the assembling together for a specific purpose, "in one place".
1. 1 Corinthians 11:18 – “For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it.” [NKJ]
2. 1 Corinthians 14:23 – “Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind?”

We have learned that the Greek word which we translate as assembly, congregation, and church is a word that means being called out for a purpose. In the early translations of Hebrew text to Greek the same Greek word is used as in the writing of the New Testament for an assembly or congregation.

However, as we read in the New Testament we see that the use of this general term has taken on a more important and restrictive meaning. It now signifies more then just a “called out body”.

We see from reading the scriptures that the New Testament church is not; a material building, an earthly kingdom, a Jewish assembly, a denomination, a political organization, or a business institution. We see that it is; (1) a spiritual building built of living stones, that is the saved, (2) a heavenly kingdom ruled by a heavenly king, (3) a general assembly of all the saved, (4) an evangelistic organization for the preaching of the gospel, and (5) an edification institution for building up and nurturing through the Word of God.

The term church in the New Testament is used in the general sense to designate all the saved. It is used in the sense of identifying a local congregation of the called out. The term is also used in the distributive sense of referring singly and without exception to the members of congregation, and most commonly as in reference to the assembly which is together for a purpose in one place.

In our next lesson I plan to start looking at the history of the New Testament church beginning with it’s foretelling in the Old Testament.


We learn from the New Testament how to be saved. We need to hear the word; believe in Jesus; repent of our sins; we must confess our belief that Jesus is the Son of God; and be baptized for the remission of our sins... If we follow these steps, the Lord adds us to His church.

Perhaps there is someone in the assembly today with the need to be buried with Christ in baptism. If you have never done these things, we urge you to do so today. If anyone has this need or desires the prayers of faithful Christians on their behalf, we encourage them to come forward while we stand and sing.
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Reference Sermon
John Cripps


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