When Did The Church Begin?
First of all, just what is the Church anyway?
In the Bible the word "church" is translated from the greek word "ekklesia." We never see the word "church" in the Old Testament; it was first used by Jesus in Matthew 16:18 when He said, And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
I looked up the word "ekklesia" in Strong's Concordance and the meaning is - calling out, i.e. a popular meeting, especially a religious congregation (Jewish synagogue or Christian community of members on earth or saints in heaven or both) - assembly, church. In other words it does not refer specifically to any particular group or assembly, but can be used to refer to any meeting or congregation.
So that brings us to decide for ourselves what Jesus meant when He used the word. To help us to understand this we need to pay close attention to the context of the usage.
Jesus said, "On this rock I will build My church." The rock He was referring to was Himself. He is the foundation, and what He builds will be built on Him and by Him. He said "I will build My church." The church He is referring to is to be "His" church. That tends to rule out Jewish synagogues or just regular every-day meetings. That makes it clear He means the group of people who will come to believe in Him and accept Him as Savior and Lord.
All those who make up the Church actually represent Christ in the world. We are actually an extension of His ministry on earth. We are also called by another name - the Body of Christ.
There is disagreement on when the Church actually began. Some will tell you it began on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell on those in attendance and many began to speak in tongues. Others claim the Church did not begin until the apostle Paul was converted and ministered to the Gentiles. Since the Church is made up of Jews and Gentiles, and we have no Biblical record of any Gentiles being converted until after the conversion of Paul, they do make a valid point, but it can and will be explained in this article. There are some folks who actually believe the Church started much later in Paul's ministry, and some say it bagan sometime while Jesus walked on earth.
To clarify which is correct we need only look back at what was said previously.
a) The Church represents Christ in the world. - The apostles, along with those converted at Pentecost and thereafter, represented Christ in the world, so they were the first ones in the Church.
b) The Church is an extension of Christ's ministry. - Were not those same believers an extension of Christ's ministry? Of course they were, so to say they were not part of the Church would be an error. So, the Church, otherwise known as the Body of Christ, began on the day of Pentecost.
Perhaps you are thinking, "How could the group of believers who had no Gentiles be the Church if the Church is made up of Jews and Gentiles?" That's easy to explain. The Jewish believers were simply the first members of the Church, and the Gentiles came later. After all, someone had to be first.
The purpose of the Church is (a) to glorify Christ, (b) to spread the gospel, (c) to grow in Christ-likeness, and (d) to be the salt of the earth. Let us look at each of these things for a moment.
a) Our purpose as Christians should be to glorify Christ in all we do. That should be our number one priority. We need to constantly ask ourselves, "Is my behavior glorifying Christ?" "Do my actions glorify Christ?" "Do my words glorify Christ?" If we answer "no" to any of those questions we need to confess our sin to God and ask for forgiveness, because we are letting Him down.
b) We need to do our share to spread the glorious gospel of God's grace. Christ started this ministry while He walked the earth, so in His physical absence we are to carry on that ministry. We are the hands and feet of Christ. We are His mouthpieces. If we do not represent Him then who will? Certainly those who do not know Him can't do it. It must be the Church.
c) As Christ's body we should strive to grow in Christ-likeness. By studying about Him in the Bible and by walking and talking with Him daily we can learn more of Him, and allow Him to live through us. If we pray for the Holy Spirit to fill us regularly then we do take on the characteristics of Christ, as we crucify our old nature each day and do as Christ would do.
d) We are the salt of the earth. Unless we add our seasoning to it the world would be a bitter and cold place. You may say, "The world is a bitter and cold place." Yes, it is cold and harsh in some ways, but imagine how bad it would be without Christian influence. Without the body of Christ the world would be so much more hateful and savage. This will happen after the Rapture when the Christian influence is take away. It will be a terrible time on earth.
The way the Church was started was just as Jesus predicted. He told His disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit who would give them power to be witnesses for Him, and that power came via the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Many people have been converted since then. God has moved in the lives of millions of people since those days. His church has been built and is still growing. The Holy Spirit still baptizes people into the Body of Christ today. The ministry of Christ is still being carried out by those of us in the Church.
The Church will never end. All of us who have accepted Christ as our Savior and Lord will be with Him forever in Heaven.
Rev. Steve Holder