Let us clear up some popular misconceptions. For instance, it is generally believed that the day of Pentecost was the birth of the church. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus was talking to Peter. He stated that he would build his church. How could he build his church if it was not already in existence? Afterword the Bible says they were all in one accord in one place. This means that the church of Jesus gathered together on that day. The purpose of the gathering was not to create a church. The purpose of the church was for it to be infilled by the Holy Spirit. This was the result of what Jesus said in John 14:25, 26. Those verses tell us that Jesus had been teaching them, but that the Holy Spirit would be sent to continue teaching them and bring things to remembrance what Jesus previously instructed.
When people come into the spiritual life of the church, they come into that same Holy Spirit presence. It is like a brick has been added to the structure of the building. That infilling is not proof of salvation. It is the empowering of each church member as they are obedient to the Scriptures. Salvation is the eternal life change experience. This indicates that there is a worldwide spiritual existence of what the Bible calls the body of Christ. The direction each person takes in his life must be guided by the Holy Spirit. Such a church member is aware of God’s spirit within himself as his body is described in the Bible to be the temple of Christ. The church did not have outreach programs. The church member was the program.
The Apostle Paul contributed to the teachings of Jesus by outlining the infrastructure of the church. And in 1 Timothy 3 he instructs the young pastor that there should be a bishop otherwise translated as elder. He said that they would be deacons and we already know the purpose of deacons was to minister to the needs of the people, particularly those Gentile converts. This means that there would be preachers, elders, deacons, persons with certain spiritual gifts, teachers, and evangelists.
The only functions and work outside of the church were that of an evangelist. All other positions were for the inside of the church and, as the Scripture says, for the edification or building up of the believers. What are the implications to this?
Jesus started the church, the Holy Spirit infilled the church, certain persons addressed the needs in the church, and outreach to lead others to Christ was done by the evangelist. The point here is that there was no other organization of the church either established by Christ himself or by the Apostle Paul. Where does that leave us today?
Around the year 300 A.D. certain pastors began to have an excessive influence and that was the beginning for the church to organize itself. Keep in mind this was not the instruction from Christ or Paul. This organization began to snowball until there were hierarchies within the clergy. This organization developed its own characteristics.
Eventually doctrines and practices met with opposition by such people as Martin Luther. Again, these oppositions snowballed until one group broke off from another group and another group broke off from them. That leaves us to the point of today. It has been reported that there could be as many as 30,000 Christian denominations in the world.
Even though Christianity is said to be the largest religious group in the world, the church’s effectiveness has waned giving way to hierarchies and authorities. It seems that mankind is more interested in organization and politics within the church than conforming to that which was originally established by Christ and Paul. Since we are probably living in the Laodicean period (or the last dispensation of the church), it is increasingly difficult for a believer to find an actual New Testament church that is free of politics, lust for money, and the display of authority.
The New Testament church preaches and teaches about the blood of Christ and salvation through him. This church is not interested in social conformity. It may have a clothing bank and a food bank, but those are not the primary thrust of the church’s activities. The church may have social events or community activities, but this is only a means to testify to others for salvation through Jesus. Whenever the church does, it must honor Christ as people are led to him as a result of opportunities for witnessing during those activities. The question should be asked, “How many people are actually led to Christ because they have been given a free used shirt?”
The New Testament church grows by the witnessing of its members one-on-one in the community while the honoring of Jesus. Everything must center around him. When people come to Christ by the individual testimony of church members, they are encouraged to display their convictions at the worship service. There may be times that people respond to a sermon. But in the days of the early church, it grew because the members went out into the community at their jobsite, while talking to neighbors, and displaying their devotion to Christ. Church growth was through one-on-one witnessing to people about Christ. As the church grew, new converts were mentored and indoctrinated in the truth of the gospel. They were nurtured as a new baby in Christ.
By all indications, Jesus is coming soon. In the meantime, it is still our responsibility to worship and serve. We each must find our way however difficult that might be to find the true New Testament church. The person that does so will be very fortunate and blessed.