Monday, July 29, 2013

The Start of the Church: Who, When, and What Difference Does It Make?

I mention Church of Christ in this post, and I noticed that the debate I had with Larry Hafley is available for listening online here.  We debate eternal security.  It would be worth listening to. Some of the rhetorical devices I use, by the way, are not a preference of mine, but what I believed I needed in order to match the rhetoric of Hafley, who depends greatly on technique to win his debates.  I don't think someone should depend on them, but at the same time meet the challenge of rhetoric.


What you believe about the church should come from the Bible, because what Scripture says about the church is true.  God's ministers should deal in truth.  The truth should be acceptable especially to preachers, but really to everyone who calls Himself a Christian.   One could argue that the church is second in importance in the New Testament to Jesus Himself, because the church is in fact the body of Christ.  Without Christ visibly or physically here, we have His church as the manifestation of Him on earth.  All the truth of the New Testament is obeyed in the context of the church.

We don't want to get Jesus wrong.  We don't want to get the church wrong.  We can say that Jesus is the Truth (John 14:6) and that the church is the container for truth.  Truth is protected and propagated by the church.  If you get the church wrong, the truth is also at stake.

I followed a couple of different examinations of the church recently online.  The first one was a discussion of a Kentucky billboard, one mounted by a Church of Christ member, that attacked the idea of a denomination, the Baptists, that was started by John the Baptist.  Get it?  The Church of Christ, of course, because it's in the name, you know, was the one started by Christ, because it has that name, "of Christ," and then there are the Baptists, who are tied to, you know, John the Baptist, and not Christ.  Now that shows ignorance of why we use the name Baptist, so it argues a strawman.  "Baptist" is simply a shortened version of "Anabaptist," which is not named after John the Baptist.

The short discussion mocked the idea that the church started with John the Baptist.  Most said they had never heard of it.  Some speculated that it must be the "landmarkers" or "Baptist briders."  The last thing said answered where someone got this belief:  "no one in their right mind, I would say.  Certainly, no one who rightly divides the Word."  The critics are going to find themselves in trouble when they actually do depend on scripture and not on tradition on this one.

I looked at the discussion with great curiosity, since I believe the Bible teaches that the church did start with John the Baptist.  There is no verse that says, "The church started at this moment."  I don't think it's hard to say that the church started with John the Baptist though.  It's not good enough just to ridicule the position, although that's common fare (at the link I provided above), or just resort to the pejorative without proof.  Please though, if you are going to talk about the church, know what ekklesia means, how people understood it, how it is used -- the grammar of its usage -- in the 118 uses.  Plain reading of scripture does glean a local only understanding of the church.  Learn Christ.  Learn the church.

The second article and then audio I read and listened to, which was recommended to me by a pastor friend, was by none other than Frank Turk.  I read the article and then listened to his session at a conference, while I was starting to lay a hardwood floor in our living room.  Turk was asked to teach about parachurch organizations, so he comes from Matthew 16 and he essentially says the church that Jesus builds is local.  He in part relies on the meaning of ekklesia, how people would have understood it in that day.  I said "essentially" because he is proving it is local, but he says that it is "universal" too.  Most of what he said was very good, and it only got confusing when he wanted to allow a "universal church" concept in too.

To begin, we know the church started before Pentecost, which should make easy sense to anyone reading.  In Acts 2, the converts at Pentecost were "added to the church."  That should make it an easy call.  You don't add to something that doesn't already exist.  Then Jesus talked about it like it already existed in Matthew 18 when he taught church discipline.  Various basic components that make a church to be a church were already existent before Pentecost.  Hebrews 1 says that Jesus sang in the church.  He didn't sing in the church on Pentecost or afterwards.

What about Jesus' statement, "I will build my church," using the future tense of the verb in Matthew 16.  "Build" is oikodomeo, which is translated many other places "edify."  Jesus was saying He would "edify" His church or "build up."  He wasn't going to build it as in it hasn't already been started, but that He would add to what already existed.

Some of this issue would be solved if we understood the term ekklesia like William Tyndale did.  When he went with plain meaning, he translated Matthew 16:18:

And I saye also vnto the that thou arte Peter: and apon this rocke I wyll bylde my congregacion. And the gates of hell shall not prevayle ageynst it.

Tyndale translates ekklesia, "congregation."  He never calls it "church."  How would it change many people's understanding of Ephesians 5:25 if they read this?

Husbandes love youre wyves even as Christ loved the congregacion and gave him silfe for it

People in Jesus' day understood ekklesia as "assembly" or "congregation."  

So how did John the Baptist start the church?  John prepared the way of the Lord by gathering an assembly of saved, immersed believers, who were called out of the world for a particular purpose.  I like to call it the church in embryonic form.  It didn't have everything it would have, but it was already an "assembly."  John transferred that group to Jesus' leadership when Jesus came on the scene and was baptized by John.

1 Corinthians 3 calls the church the "temple."  The church is the New Testament temple.  Israel's temple was rejected as the house of God and the church became God's house.  Jesus is God.  He inhabited the temple.  Jesus baptized the saints on Pentecost with the Holy Spirit, but that does not mean that the church didn't already house the Holy Spirit.  In John 20:22, we read:

[Jesus] breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.

The assembly had already received the Holy Spirit.  When Jesus ascended into heaven, His temple was already inhabited by God the Holy Spirit.  Acts 2 (and 8, 10, and 19) was a different happening with the baptism of the Spirit.  That authenticated the coming of the Holy Spirit for all who believe.

I don't have a problem with those who say Jesus started the church.  The idea that John the Baptist started it isn't new.  It's the belief of S. E. Anderson in his book, The First Baptist.  This was required reading at Maranatha Baptist Bible College when I was a student and it was sold in the book store.  In many cases, people don't know about it because they went to a Protestant school with Protestant, essentially Catholic, ecclesiology.  The Reformation didn't do much at all to reform ecclesiology.  I would gladly debate any universal church proponent on this issue.

In the discussion to which I above referred, the critics partly mocked the position of men who might believe what I advocate above, because they are also KJVO.  There is a reason why the local only position and KJVO often go together, especially with Baptists.  The local only people believe that God preserved His church based on biblical presuppositions.  They don't believe the true church emerged from Roman Catholicism.  They also believe God preserved His Word and used the church to do it, again based on faith in Scripture.  By the way, many believe the church preserved the original language text, not a translation.  Roman Catholicism made a translation the authority with the Latin Vulgate.  The critics were correct in their appraisal that the two positions go together, but they wrote as if they were clueless as to why they go together.

Like so many other texts and doctrines, Protestants spiritualized and allegorized.  They read into the text something that wasn't there.  They were wrong about a lot, including the huge parts of scripture on who things would end, because of their hermeneutic, which hung on to Catholic presuppositions.  A local only ecclesiology would return to a literal hermeneutic on the church, which relies on scripture to explain itself.

If you don't know the who and when, then you don't know the what.  When you don't know the what, you threaten the truth, because the church is the pillar and ground of the truth.  Obedience to the truth is in and through the church, so if you don't know what the church is, you risk losing reward, something the Apostle Paul talked about on a regular basis.


Larry said...

In Acts 2, the converts at Pentecost were "added to the church." That should make it an easy call. You don't add to something that doesn't already exist.

Whatever the merits of the rest of your case (which IMO aren't many), this is certainly not an argument in your favor.

Those "added to the church" are talked about in 2:47, which is after 2:1-4 where the Holy Spirit comes for the first time and the church begins. So the church begins in Acts 2:1-4, and those in 2:42 are added to those in 2:1-4 and those in 2:41.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Larry, This is happening in Vegas, but not staying there. Where in 2:1-4 does it say the church began? Did I miss that? They were baptized and then added to the church. They weren't added until they were baptized, so there were those already water baptized, and that didn't happen after the Holy Spirit baptized those who gladly received His Word. Water baptism wasn't required for Spirit baptism as we can see later in Acts 10-11, but it was required to be added to the church. So if that was briefly moved into your column, it now moves back to mine. I've got three explicit bits of evidence and some implicit. Those come from the text, that is, looking at the Bible without predisposition toward one particular view, letting the Bible speak for itself. If the church started at Pentecost, it is one of the best kept secrets in the Bible.

I don't see the value of keeping the invisible church concept alive.


Larry said...

Part of this stems from your denial of Spirit baptism adding to the body (1 Cor 12:13), and since we disagree on that, we will likely disagree here. But Acts 2:1-4 is clearly the initial instance of Spirit baptism, which was necessary to be in the church, and was still future in the time of Christ and The Baptist.

The problem with your concept is that John didn't gather people who had been baptized as Christians, and that undermines the very idea of the NT church. It makes it essentially Presbyterian, where people are baptized as other than believers. That would be exceedingly strange for someone called the Baptist.

Overall, the weight of exegesis is heavily on the side of the church beginning at Pentecost. To avoid that, you have to commit the cardinal sin of reading later revelation back onto earlier revelation

We don't keep the concept of the invisible church because it's valuable. That's far too pragmatic and utilitarian. We keep it because it's biblical, and we are bound to hold and believe whatever the Bible teaches regardless of our perception of it's value.

But alas, I am sure we (still) do not agree on this. My main point was that there is a clear argument for the church beginning in Acts 2:1-4, to which the baptized believers are added. You don't have to create a church earlier to satisfy the need for something to be added to.

Gary Webb said...

If the church started in Acts 2:1-4, then what was the group that had a membership roll of 120 names in Acts 1 who voted another person to take Judas' position? Also, if the Holy Spirit came "for the first time" in Acts 2:1-4, what was going on in John 20:22 when Jesus commanded them to receive the Holy Ghost? The verb "receive" is an aorist imperative, not a future imperative. It is a command for that moment, not a prophetic statement. If the church started when the Holy Ghost came, then you would at least have to move back to John 20.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Larry,

In NH now. I knew that 1 Cor 12:13 was the proof text for universal church, which does exemplify that hermeneutic. How would someone need to go to 1 Cor 12 to find how to define the church, which, by the way, is debunked in v. 27 of 1 Cor 12, when Paul excludes himself by saying, "Ye are the body of Christ." You say that there is a cardinal sin of reading later revelation to earlier revelation, and use 1 Cor 12 to define Acts 2.

I'm taking my position from the understanding of ekklesia, which is buttressed in Matthew 18. Jesus is talking about it like already exists. And Acts 2, added to the church, comes before 1 Cor 12 as well. Look at the 21 times Jesus says ekklesia in Scripture. It is always local.

And I don't know what you were talking about with the John the Baptist, Presbyterian comment. I don't want to try to guess.


Hi ya'll
I'm not arguing for a universal church necessarily, but
doesn't Paul use "we" and "body" in Rom. 12:4-5, 1 Cor. 10:17, and Eph. 5:30?
Good Discussion.

Larry said...

Gary, the 120 was a group of believers. Not every group of believer is a church.

Kent, 1 Cor 12 aside (we have discussed that before and you lost :), though 1 Cor 12 and Acts 2 are contemporaneous in terms of eras of revelation), my comment about John the Baptist and Presbyterians was that they both had/have followers who were not partakers of Christian baptism.

Larry said...

And Gary, John 20:22 was the disciples, and it was not the baptism of the Spirit. That's why they were waiting in Jerusalem in Acts 1.

Gary Webb said...

You say "To avoid that, you have to commit the cardinal sin of reading later revelation back onto earlier revelation". The problem with this statement is that later revelation ALWAYS explains earlier revelation. John did not gather believers into an assembly, but Jesus did gather together those who had believed on Him through the preaching of John. That this is Scriptural fact is revealed in Acts 19:1-7, a passage normally twisted by Protestants. These supposed converts of John did not even know that he had preached about the Holy Ghost. Paul told them that John preached 1) that they should repent, & 2) that they needed to believe on Christ.

Gary Webb said...

If Acts 1 was just "a group of believers" as you say, then they area the ONLY group in the Bible where it says "the number of NAMES together was ...." Sorry, but that is not just giving the number of believers, it is giving the number of names on a membership roll. If you have never encountered that before, look at the specific wording.

Larry said...

Gary, Later revelation does not always explain earlier revelation. That's one of the major errors going on today that has resulted in what is essentially a rewriting of the OT.

The fact remains that prior to Acts 2, there is no Christian baptism. No one could be baptized into the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ because it hadn't happened yet. This is core Baptist polity.

Regarding Acts 1 and membership, you are reading something into the text that it doesn't say. There is no exegetical evidence that "the number of names together ..." means that a church existed. Furthermore, there are a great many things in the world in which one can have their name listed which is not a church.

Again, if we believe in the sufficiency and authority of Scripture, it seems to me there is no option. The church requires the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and that started in Acts. 2

Kent Brandenburg said...


We know that the NT is not always an "explanation" of the OT, and this isn't an example of that kind of error. We're talking about comparing scripture with scripture here. There is one God and He doesn't deny Himself. If a passage says Jesus sang with the church, like it does in Hebrews 1, that validates an idea that we can already see in Matthew 18, where the church is talked about as already having begun. Acts 1 says the people who were water baptized were added to the church.

Regarding 1 Cor 12 being spirit baptism, if it weren't so necessary for the entire weight of universal church ecclesiology to fit a predisposition, I don't see anyone believing that's what it teaches there. That view contradicts the chapter, the book, the passages actually on spirit baptism, so that if that were what it was talking about, it would be completely vague and ambiguous. Contradictions and ambiguity are not a basis for sound doctrine. And now we look at the amazing damages caused by that belief, and the downgrading of doctrine and certainty.

When you say the church requires the baptism of the Spirit, I can almost agree, except that you mean "the beginning of the church" and then the present tense "requires." I would agree that the church required it, because Jesus promised it. He knew the church needed it for authentication, validation, or confirmation.

I still don't get the parallel between John bringing together the first assembly, which was passed to Jesus, and the Presbyterians.

Kent Brandenburg said...

John Gardner,

Thanks for asking. I can say this about Rom 12. It's at least giving a shot at exegesis; however, easily debunked. We can conclude from Paul's use of "we" that he was a member of the body of Christ, that is, he was a member of a church, a local congregation, from which he wrote to the Romans. There is no conclusion from the "we," the plural pronoun that can be made about a universal church. However, one can be made from "you are the body of Christ," because it defines the body, and Paul excludes himself, which to Larry would mean that Paul was unsaved, since the body is all believers, and that all the believers in the world happened to be in Corinth, since that was the body.

Ditto with 1 Corinthians 10:17.

Ditto with Eph 5:30.

Eph 5:30 hurts the universal church cause, because if there is a universal church, then there must be a universal husband and wife to be consistent with the hermeneutic.

There are other examples of scripture with a plural, like "we," being referred to by a generic singular. This is not unique. No mystical or platonic meaning or usage of "body" or "church" can be concluded from that. Being a body or a body part doesn't work in a universal sense -- a body is local and the body part must be WHERE the body is.

Larry said...


Comparing Scripture with Scripture should, IMO, lead us away from your position because when we compare, we see they are different. What John the Baptist had was not an assembly of believers who had been baptized as Christians. And that's my point about the Baptist and Presbyterians: both of their audiences are compromised of people who have experienced NT baptism (meaning baptism as an ordinance of the church to identify with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection). For the Baptist, it was baptism for the forgiveness of sins; for Presbyterians, it is baptism as a sign of the covenant. For neither, it is baptism to signify participation in Christ's death, burial, and resurrection.

Similarly, whatever Jesus had was not an assembly that had been baptized as Christians. Romans 6 seems clear that Christian baptism is baptism into his death and raised in accordance with his resurrection. It is a symbol of our participation in that. That was impossible prior to it actually happening. So the earliest Christian baptism could have been in Matt 28, Luke 24, Mark 16, John 20.

Regarding 1 Cor 12 and Spirit baptism, it's a matter of exegesis. When I learned that, it had nothing to do with the universal church. It had to do with what the text says. The context of 1 Cor 12 is completely in line with that, so I am not sure what you mean by that. Though I have read you before, it didn't make sense of the text or its context. But hey, we can differ on that.

Thanks and take care. I will bow out here.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Larry,

I've got verses that deal directly with when the church started, at least three explicit, and then some implicit. Other concepts and passages should be interpreted in light of that, especially speculation, which is what you are writing. Speculation is as weak as you can be in the realm of the basis of theology. Nowhere do we read that Christ's death, burial, and resurrection must be existent before the church could exist. Ekklesia is an assembly that already existed before Pentecost. Webb is indicating that. I've given direct basis for that. Romans 6 doesn't add anything. Being baptized into (eis -- identified with, like Israel was baptized into Moses) Jesus death shows that immersion identifies with Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ was taught in the OT and was taught by Christ. Nicodemus heard the prophesy of it in John 3. Water baptism while Jesus walked on earth anticipated Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection.

It sounds like you are saying that John's baptism was OT baptism, which I've heard taught, but only by hyper-dispensationalists, who call baptism itself a ritual and reject baptism for church membership.

I would agree that John baptized people who were not saved, just like I've baptized people who were not saved. There are plenty of people who were baptized who were not saved. Baptism isn't salvation.

Anyway, you are coming back with a very thin web of something and are attempting to fit plain statements into some kind of speculation from those points.

Anyway, I don't mean this in a disrespectful way, but I feel for your predicament of having to toe the line to fit into something "bigger" than the church, which usually disciplines with the cold shoulder.


Thanks for answering sir. It just seems to me a lot hangs on the "ye" and Paul excluding himself.
Is Paul excluding himself here In Gal. 3:26?
"For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus."
Couldn"t not Rep. Boehner address all 434 Representatives in the House during a speech and say something like, "You are the US House of Representatives, you are the US Congress, you need to act to defund Obamacare!"
Good discussion.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi John,

Thanks. When Paul says "ye," yes, he excludes himself, or else he would say, "we." In his sentence, he's not talking about himself as a child of God, not because he isn't one, but because he's addressing the Galatians. There is a grammatical difference between Gal 3:26 and 1 Cor 12:27, that being that "the children" is plural and "the body" is singular. How 1 Cor 12:27 debunks the universal body concept is that if "the body" (singular) of Christ is all saved people and "the body" is in Corinth, then Paul is unsaved and everyone outside of Corinth is also unsaved, giving new meaning to "how to get to heaven from Corinth." The only way to heaven would be from Corinth. An important place. Of course, what I'm saying to you is that your two grammatical examples are not parallel.

We've got some contextual problems with your example. What you are saying that Boehner would be doing is something closer to talking to one to 10 of the members, something of that relative size, and saying, You are the U.S. House. Unless the house were one to ten members, he wouldn't say that. He would say, "You are members of the House." I'm saying this if the Boehner example were to be compared to Paul calling the Corinthians "the body of Christ," when they were of one city or town. It helps illustrate what I'm saying.

"Ye are the body of Christ" doesn't just exclude Paul, but it excludes everyone else too. Doesn't addressing the House of Representatives as "the House" exclude everyone else?

Boehner would call them the House because they were the House. Is the church at Corinth "the" body of Christ? We know that Boehner is in the House, no matter what he says, even though technically it isn't true when he says, ye, excluding himself. We understand what he means though. That is not the same figure of speech that Paul is using, with all the other explanation I gave above.

The Preacher said...

Kent wrote:

"Baptist" is simply a shortened version of "Anabaptist,"

No it is not, for that is what a Baptist would have you think! The three greatest distinctions are these:

1> An Anabaptist cannot keep his mouth shut openly and PUBLICALLY preaching the Lord Jesus Christ to the world, even though the world hates to hear it! This is NOT going "house to house", witnessing to people, handing out tracts, etc. (all this is good).

2> They are against the church getting in bed with any government oversight (i.e. in the USA, your typical 501c3 church!). Jesus Christ is the head of the church, not the IRS!

2> All forms of Catholic and Protestant remembrances such as Christmas and Easter practiced by most Baptists are unbiblical and only have "a form of godliness".

If you are interested in an excellent but somewhat long discourse on Anabaptists history, go to the following website: