In discussing the history and destiny of the New Testament Church, we shall confine treatment of this subject to New Testament evidence. Inasmuch as others have written relative to the establishment of the Lord's church, we shall merely mention that Christ foretold (described in advance) the building of -- His church (Matt. 16:18); that Peter fulfilled Christ's prophecy by introducing Christ's soul-saving gospel to the world on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, announcing heaven's terms of forgiveness (Acts 2:37-38); with Luke recording this inspired covenant both historically and doctrinally.
Members of the Church not Perfect
The 5th Chapter of Acts records an instance of sinful plotting among members of the Jerusalem congregation. Although this man and woman had become Christians, it was clearly demonstrated that they had not attained any state of sinless perfection. Since, this occurred during the "age of miracles" this husband and wife were punished by death for their departure from apostolic teaching.
Similar misconduct is shown in Christ's letters to the seven congregations in Asia: "But I have this against thee, that thou didst leave thy first love. Remember therefore whence thou art fallen, and repent and do the first works; or else I come to thee, and will move thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent" (Rev. 2:4-5). The preceding chapter informs readers of the N.T. that the "candlestick" is the congregation to which the letter of admonition is addressed. Therefore, the Lord not only established His church in the universal sense, but He also removes or obliterates congregations when they are no longer true to His teachings.
Numerous other examples of New Testament congregations and individual Christians who were either faithful or unfaithful to Christ can be cited. However, the above two cases should be sufficient to show that members of the church do not reach perfection during this life.
The Church (Membership) Persecuted
Scarcely had the Lord's church been established in Jerusalem before trials and persecutions came upon it. The apostles were taken captive, being placed in "public ward" -- but heaven miraculously rescued them, and the Lord's messenger instructed them to "stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this Life" (Acts 5:21). The jealous high priest of the Sadducees had caused them to be thrown in prison. Now, after their escape from jail, they are again taken by officers, before the council; and, it is upon this occasion that the famous inspired statement of Peter and the rest of the apostles is recorded: "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).
Stephen was stoned to death after preaching the gospel to the Jews. And a young man named Saul held the garments of those who threw the death-dealing stones (Acts 7:58). Acts 8:1-4 tells of the great persecution against the church that arose at this time -- so much so, that the Christians were scattered abroad, and wherever they went they "preached the word of Christ." Thus, persecution proved to be one of the means of spreading the gospel. The Devil's agents sought to prevent the growth of the church and the spreading of God's word -- yet, just the opposite resulted.
From Chiefest of Sinners to Least Among the Saints
It is not at all unusual for the most ardent opponents of the TRUTH, to succumb to the TRUTH that they once opposed. This happened to Saul of Tarsus and is initially related in the 9th Chapter of Acts, and then told and re-told by Saul (now the apostle Paul) as he seeks to convert the world to Christ. See Acts, Chapters 22 and 26. Paul recounted this occurrence in his life, and by inspiration of God, Luke recorded it for all time.
In his first letter to the Corinthian congregation, Paul stated: "For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God" (I Cor. 15:9). Paul held the gospel in such high esteem, that by inspiration he termed it the "power of God unto salvation" (Romans 1:16). He also called the "sword of the Spirit...the word of God." See Ephesians 6:17.
Dangers Confronting the Lord's Church
A scene of sorrowful parting is depicted by Luke in Acts, Chapter 20, as inspiration describes Paul's statements made to the bishops of the Ephesian church. He has informed them that they "shall see his face no more" (Acts 20:25). Paul then lists several points, some of which are designed to prove the worth of his own work among them, and other points foretelling the sources of danger to the church. Here they are: (1) I am pure from the blood of all men. (2) For I shrank not from declaring unto you the whole counsel of God (Verses 26-27.) (3) I shrank not from declaring unto you anything that was profitable (Verse 20). (4) Testifying both to Jews and Greeks (Verse 21). (5) I hold not my life of any account as dear unto myself, so that I may accomplish my course, and the ministry, which I received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God (Verse 24). (6) Take heed unto yourselves (the bishops), and to all the flock (the Ephesian congregation), in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops. (7) Feed the church of the Lord, which He purchased with His own blood. (8) After my departing grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock (the congregation). (9) From among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. (10) Wherefore, watch ye (Verses 28-31).
As a brief summary of the above, we can state that Paul stressed that he had discharged his duties to them, but was prophesying that both from outside the church, as well as from among the overseers of the church, the flock would be attacked; disciples would be drawn away; and souls would be lost.
Individuals Who Made Shipwreck of Their Faith
We have already mentioned the first recorded sin in the Jerusalem church, wherein Ananias and Sapphira "kept back part of the price" (Acts 5).
Simon (the Sorcerer) in Acts, 8th Chapter, who was urged to repent and pray for God's forgiveness, after he became an erring Christian.
Alexander the coppersmith, a convert who later apostatized (II Tim. 4:14). Also mentioned in I Timothy 1:20, along with Hymenaeus.
Demas forsook Paul, having loved the present world (II Tim. 4:10).
Diotrephes, who rejected the apostle John, and who further sought a place of prominence (preeminence) among the disciples (III John 9).
All of the foregoing may be classed as a brief bit of history of the Lord's church -- and let us keep in mind that history frequently does repeat itself. All of the things that befell the church and the Christians down through the years can happen again -- and probably either ARE happening or will happen.
A Glimpse of the Church's Destiny
Inspiration provides a verbal view of the final destiny of the Lord's church in Paul's First Letter to Corinth, Chapter 15 and verses 20-28. We shall note only a few excerpts: (1) Christ has been raised...the first fruits of them that slept. (2) As in Adam all die, so, in Christ, shall all be made alive. (3) Each in his own order: Christ...then they that are Christ's at His coming. (4) Then cometh the end, when Christ shall deliver up the kingdom (the church) to God the Father. (5) When he shall have abolished all opposition (rule, authority and power). (6) Christ must continue to reign, as He does now, until He has conquered all enemies (figuratively, put them under His feet). (7) The last enemy to be overcome is death. (8) When all things have become totally subjected to Christ, then shall the Son also subject Himself unto God that God may be all in all. The same series of events is recorded in symbolic language in the Book of Revelation.
Conclusion and Application
In this 20th century, we must strive toward Christ's perfect example -- always working toward that goal, but ever realizing that as frail human beings, we will be constantly beset by our weaknesses, and failures. We cannot allow ourselves to become discouraged because we stumble and fall -- or because those with whom we have worked, or those whom we still love, have succumbed to temptation and have been seduced by the allurement of the world about us. On the contrary, as we have occasion to meet and overcome temptations, we must recognize that we become stronger and more resistant to the devices of Satan.
We must note that persecutions will come our way as we strive to serve our Lord. As we serve Christ, we will displease mankind -- we must not expect to win popularity contests or seek the acclaim of the world.
Although we have many opponents, may we always remember that God has provided us with the best of weapons -- the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God...the shield of faith, the breastplate of righteousness, girt about with the truth, and always with prayer and supplication.
Dangers have confronted the church in every generation, and our time is no different. From within the eldership, and from outside the flock, perverse men seek to mold the Lord's church to men's patterns. Paul warned about this. It has happened many times, and it will continue to shipwreck disciples and even entire assemblies. The Lord has removed candlesticks, and our Saviour is still removing candlesticks.
Among the churches of Asia, immorality and false doctrine seemed to lead the way to Apostasy. A bit later, as Paul predicted, the departures occurred from within the eldership of the churches, plus attacks from pagan and heathen religions.
A century ago, new departures occurred both from outside the church, and from among the bishops of the church. Organizations and institutions were established a century ago, which tried to usurp the work that the Lord assigned to His church.
Now, in the 20th century, identical departures are occurring -- from among the elders of churches and from outside pressures. The subjects are slightly different, but the false principles are the same. We could say that today's departures are merely old ones in a more modern dress.
Down through the ages, God seems to have a way of separating the sheep from the goats -- just as it will be at judgment. God provides us with the ability to learn of Him, study His Word, and then use our own reason to reach a conclusion. But, Satan, and Satan's agents tempt us -- we know they lie, but sometimes our brethren yield to the tempting falsehood. Perhaps we will come to our senses before it is too late -- but too seldom do we repent and return to God.
By Luther Martin -- Via Truth Magazine XI: 1, pp. 22-24, October 1966
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