When Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am,” Peter and the other apostles confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied to this confession and said, “…upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:15-19).
So, we see these words of the Lord stand today as a monument to the folly of man. According to His promise, He built His church. Yet despite His promise, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted” (Matt. 15:13), men have “built” (or added) many other churches to the one which Jesus built. However, it seems there are many who are perfectly willing to compete with the Lord by establishing other churches.
Today, in the United States, there are more than 400 distinct religious organizations in existence, each one different from all the rest in a few ways or, in some cases, many ways. And they make all kinds of different claims as to purpose, authority, source, etc. In the face of so many claims, how can one know which is the right church; or even if any of them are? The only way to be sure is to go to the Bible, the inspired word of God, and find the church revealed there.
The beginning of the church of the Bible
We need to find where, when and how was the church to be built. The scriptures supply the answer. “Now it will come about that In the last days The mountain of the house of the LORD Will be established as the chief of the mountains, And will be raised above the hills; And all the nations will stream to it. And many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways And that we may walk in His paths.’ For the law will go forth from Zion And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” (Isa. 2:2-3). Notice some pertinent information in this passage.
1. The “house of God” was to begin in Jerusalem.
2. It was to begin “in the latter days.”
3. It would be composed of “all nations.”
4. It was to be established by “teaching” and not by war.
The “house of God” is identified by Paul in giving direction to Timothy when he says, “in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Also, Zechariah confirms that the house of God, the church, would begin in Jerusalem: “Therefore thus says the LORD, “I will return to Jerusalem with compassion; My house will be built in it,” declares the LORD of hosts, “and a measuring line will be stretched over Jerusalem” (Zec 1:16).
It must have been quite a surprise to the Jew, for centuries the chosen people of God, that the “house of God” would consist of “all nations.” But a change was coming. Other nations would be a part of the church that was to be built. A church built in some other place cannot be the church of the Bible.
Jesus promised to build the church of the bible
Notice, in Matt. 16 the Lord promised, “I will build My church … And I will give you the keys of the kingdom.” The church is repeatedly identified later as the kingdom: “the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven…a kingdom which cannot be shaken…” (Heb. 12:23, 28). And those who were “translated into the kingdom” (Col. 1:13) were members of “the body, the church” (Col. 1:18).
But the Jews were looking for an earthly kingdom, one that would cast off the political and military yoke of the Roman Empire. However, Jesus plainly said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting…” (John 18:36). Physical birth made people citizens of the kingdom of Israel, but Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God…Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3-5). This kingdom, this house, this church was to be completely different from Israel.
Power was to come with the establishment
When was this church, or kingdom, to begin? Jesus had told the apostles, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (Mk 9:1). Later, after His resurrection, He told them, “behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Lk 24:49). So, we see that the kingdom was to come during the lifetime of the apostles, it was to come with power, they were to wait in Jerusalem until Jesus sent the power upon them.
Just before His ascension, Jesus “commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:1-8). As we continue to read, we notice, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place…And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance” (Acts 2:1, 4). When the accusation was made, “They are full of sweet wine” (Acts 2:13), Peter answered: “These men are not drunk, as you suppose…but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘that I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind’” (Acts 2:15-17). Thus, all the pieces of the prophecies come together.
Prophecies concerning the church of the bible
The church was to begin “in Jerusalem” (Isa. 2:8; Zech. 1:16) “in the last days” (Isa. 2:2-8), during the lifetime of the apostles (Mark 9:1) “with power.” The power was to come when the Holy Spirit was given (Acts 1:8). It all fits. The apostles were waiting in Jerusalem as Jesus instructed and the Holy Spirit came as He had promised. And they preached that “the last days” had now begun. Therefore, we should expect the church (kingdom) to begin – and it does!
When the gospel was preached, people asked, “What shall we do?” God’s answer “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls…And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:38, 41, 47). Jesus had promised, “I will build My church.” That promise had now been fulfilled. That church had now been built, and when the Lord saved people, He added them to His church.
Continuing through the book Acts, we find the church growing as people were “obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). This was the church of the Bible. Any church that began at some place other than Jerusalem cannot be the church of the Bible. Nor can any church that did not begin during the lifetime of the apostles be the church of the Bible. Also any church that is not composed of ALL the saved cannot be the church of the Bible.
The head of the church of the bible
The apostles writings (Romans through Jude), picture Jesus’ church for us. The apostle Paul wrote of Jesus, “He is also head of the body, the church…God gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body…There is one body…He Himself being the Savior of the body” (Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:22-28; 4:4; 5:23). The church that Jesus built is the “body of Christ.”
Surely no man-made church can make that claim! That church is also the bride of Christ; “I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin…For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body…Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her…For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:23-32).
Without a doubt the most meaningful description of the church of the Bible is that of “the family of God.” Paul wrote to those in the church in Ephesus, “you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household” (Eph. 2:19-20). Also this same apostle said, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27). When those on Pentecost were baptized, the Lord saved them and added them to His church (Acts 2:47). In other words, because they were “born of water and the Spirit” they were now in the kingdom (Jn 3:5) which is the church. Thus, all of God’s children are in His family, which is the church of the Bible. Therefore, if one has been “born again” he is in God’s family, which is the church.
So, the conclusion we reach is; any church with origins at another time or place, or in another way not in keeping with what we read in God’s word is not the church of the Bible. Nor is one composed of different people than what we read in God’s word the church of the Bible. Jesus taught clearly about the source of the church, the kingdom, “The seed is the word of God” (Lk 8:11). The apostle Peter wrote later, “you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God…And this is the word which was preached to you” (1 Pet. 1:23, 25). So, if you will receive the same seed, the word of God, and obey it the same way those people did 2000+ years ago, the Lord will add you to that same church.