Question #85

Can the church today be traced to the New Testament church?

Most of the denominations can state for a fact the history of their churches. The Roman Catholics have their history of Saint Peter & Paul and the Methodists their history of John Wesley. The Bible was only written to a point in history. Obviously the Lord's church did not stop there. His work continued and the church continued to exist and expand. What is the history of the church of Christ? What happened between the time that the last word in the Bible was written and 1804 when the Restoration came about. Where was the church in the days of King Sellassie, in the days of slavery, in the days of King Henry? When did the message of the church cross vast oceans and come to Europe, Africa, India, Australia, Americas, and the Caribbean? The church had to have existed from the day it was established by Christ to now. Any wise or foolish man could read a book and see the name of a city and read about the ways and tradition of its people and adopt them and build a city like it and call it by that name. That does not make it the city that he read about. I am asking not for the sake of provocation but for understanding. I see the church of Christ as the church in the Bible following all of the doctrine and commandments that Christ has commanded, but where is today's church of Christ link to the one spoken of in the Bible?

The Answer:

You are correct in saying that many and in fact most denominations can trace their history back to their founders. Some count the Catholic Church among that number; however, there was no Catholic Church in existence in the days of Peter and Paul. There was a catholic (small “c” meaning universal) church at that time. Such an ability is not a sign of being a church faithful to the scripture; it is a sign that, among other things, the church is question was established centuries too late to be the New Testament church. A church that glorifies a human or a religious practice in the name by which it is called (i.e., baptism, presbytery or the advent), glorify someone or something other than Christ. This is not a sign of being a New Testament church; it is a sign of departure from the faith of the New Testament. Other examples could be given.

Must a church be able to trace its history in an unbroken line back to the first century in order to be the church of the New Testament? If so, then no church of the New Testament exists today. If that is the case, then we should all close our door and go home. An alternative might be that since no church can be the New Testament church, any church will do and there is no need to worry about whether any church is the New Testament church. A final alternative might be that all churches, regardless of faith and practice, are New Testament churches.

The scripture clearly teaches that thee was one church in the days of the New Testament. Either we can know from the scripture what it practiced and taught or we cannot know what it practiced and taught. If we cannot know what it practiced and taught one of three things must be so: 1) God did not reveal what he expected the New Testament church to believe and practice; 2) God did not reveal what he expected the New Testament church to believe and practice in a way that man can understand it; 3) God revealed what he expected the New Testament church to believe and practice in a manner that man could understand, but man is incapable of understanding it; or 4) God revealed what he expected the New Testament church to believe and practice and man is capable of understanding it. Some might suggest that there is a fifth alternative – God revealed what he expected the New Testament church to believe and practice, God revealed what he expected the New Testament church to believe and practice in a manner that man could understand, but man cannot understand it alike. This alternative is not included because it is a subset of alternative three. If man cannot understand it alike, then either most men do not understand it or have concluded that they are under no obligation to follow God’s understandable revelation.

The only alternative that makes sense is alternative four. If one must be in Christ to be saved, and he must (Acts 4:12), then he must be in the body of Christ to be saved (Eph. 5:23). If one must be in the body of Christ to be saved, then one must be in the church to be saved because the body of Christ is the church (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18, 24). This being so, anyone who teaches that the church of Christ does not exist today teaches by implication that no one can be saved in this day and age.

On the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) those who heard the gospel proclaimed cried out asking, “What must we do?” Peter responded, “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. 40 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” (Acts 2:38-40.) Luke then records: “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. 42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:41-42.)

Notice how the chapter concludes: “Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” (Acts 2:47, emphasis added.)

All that is required to be the New Testament church today is to read God’s revealed will, follow it and it only without addition or subtraction, and you cannot help but become what they became when they responded to the gospel in Acts 2.

Three final observations:

  1. The analogy that you draw is correct if you are speaking about an earthly city. It is a physical impossibility for two objects, be they rocks or cities, to occupy the same place at the same time. This does not mean that blueprints cannot be followed over and over again. God gave Noah instructions concerning the building of the ark. If Noah’s preaching had been successful and others had built an ark following the same instructions, would it not have saved them as Noah’s saved him and his family. Surely so. What if they have built an ark with different dimensions out of different wood, and had failed to pitch it within and without? Would they not have been destroyed in the flood? Surely so. God expects His instructions to be followed. Read His instructions to Moses concerning the building of the tabernacle. (Exodus 25:40; Hebrews 8:5.)

  2. Please read the lessons on this website related to the church, along with the answers to Questions 30, 31, and 50. Listen to the sermon on this website on the The Undenominational Nature of the Church.

  3. Having said all of the above, if you want to see what history has been assembled, please see the Traces of the Kingdom website.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)