BRIEF HISTORY OF CHURCH OF CHRIST
THE CHURCH OF CHRIST was established in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost in AD 33, some days after the resurrection of Jesus Christ and His subsequent ascension to heaven. From this date, the church passed through trials and persecutions in the hands of the Jews as well as the Roman authorities who were the ruling power of the time. Before his death, Jesus promised to build His church (Matt. 16:18-19), the fulfillment of which came to pass on the Day of Pentecost in AD 33. Jesus told the apostles that they will be persecuted (Lk 11:49; Matt. 5:11-12). He talked about the level of sufferings that will come after His death. He predicted the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44, Luke 21:5-6, Matt 24:1-2). The Scriptures are full of predictions about the establishment of the church in Jerusalem and her ultimate spread to all corners of the world. The church was thus established after Jesus shed His blood to purchase her (Acts 20:28). The early members of the church were called Christians (Acts 11:26).
For professing Jesus Christ, the early Christians were killed, fed to lions, burnt at the stake, banished to dark places and thrown into jail. Many were beheaded, some were crucified, yet they refused to deny Jesus Christ. As instruments of persecution forced them to run from one place to another they carried the message of the cross as pre-occupation. They never reneged in their services to God, despite the torrent of lies put on their heads by the Roman Emperors.
APOSTASY IN THE CHURCH
Apostasy, however, set in within the church as the Scriptures had predicted. In the second century the original practices of the church were diluted and polluted. This led to the introduction of human doctrines in worship, and the departure from apostolic doctrines. Subsequently, it became difficult to demarcate between state policies and church doctrines.
Briefly, this is how apostasy and corruption crept into the church and thrived.
In the second century the church digressed from apostolic practice of having plurality of elders in each local church to that of having just one bishop. This is how it happened:
Over time the church drifted into giving more authority and leadership function to one man among the elders. This man they designated the “president” or “presiding bishop.”
Distinction started to be made between the bishop and the elder (see Tit 1:5, 7). Probably because one elder in the local church would have been more outstanding in ability and leadership than others.
Gradually, the word bishop was applied exclusively to one elder, and the rest were simply designated elders or presbyters. Consequently, elders became insignificant in church matters, and eventually, the subordinates of the bishop.
The bishop now assumed more powers and so extended his authority to nearby local churches other than the one that appointed him. This they did by establishing new congregations in cities and taking control over them as bishop.
In the course of time these city bishops extended their authority and became Metropolitan Bishops.
This resulted in combining churches of a large area under a single government. This large area was known as diocese, and one of the Metropolitan bishops graduated to a Diocesan Bishop.
By the close of the 5TH century this practice had spread such that only five centres ruled the “Christendom.” Consequently, five Bishops became known as Patriarchs. The centres from which they ruled were Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople, and Rome.
In 588 AD, John the Faster, Patriarch of Constantinople, declared himself Universal Bishop.
In 606 AD, Boniface III, who had become the Patriarch of Rome, acquired for himself the title of Universal Bishop. This led to being the Roman pontiff; the papal supremacy was introduced.
The Pope wielded tremendous powers which resulted in the furious struggle between the Church of Rome and the State. It was the ambition of the Church to subordinate the State to the authority of the Pope. The authority of the Pope, who was regarded as the “head” of the church grew in leaps and bounds and he made final pronouncements on both state and religious matters. The church became an arbiter that made pronouncements and passed death sentences on those who did not agree to the polluted doctrines introduced by the hierarchy.
The power struggle led naturally to the corruption of the government of the Church, which led to the corruption of everything connected with the church. The departure of the church from divine pattern opens the way for other departures.
Prominent among the early departures from divine pattern was the introduction of infant baptism in place of the baptism of believers. Other departures included the doctrine of transubstantiation, confession of sins to the priest, indulgences, et certera.
At the Vatican Council of 1870, the earlier declaration by Pope Pius IX that the Pope is Infallible was adopted. The Infallibility of the Pope was therefore instituted.
Church members were not allowed to see, touch or read the bible (so that they may not know the truth).
After many centuries of falling away from the truth, sustained protests started, and disobedience by many members who rejected the polluted doctrines and human creeds became the order of the day. These actions spread across the Christendom. Consequently, the church passed death sentences on many members that the called heretics, and sometimes burned them on the stake.
The secret interpretation, printing and circulation of the Bible by truth-seeking members eventually revealed the hidden truth of the Scriptures and unveiled the corrupt practices that were prevalent in the church to the people. This brought about the Reformation of the church and, subsequently, her Restoration to the original pattern of AD 33. However, the corrupted version still exists today.
THE DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ ushered in the New Testament Church. The Scriptures are full of predictions concerning the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ (Deut 18:15-19, Dan 9:25-26; Isa 9:6-7; Dan 9:26; Isa 53:8; Matt 12:40; 16:21; 20:18-19). These predictions were completely fulfilled when Jesus resurrected on the First Day of the week (Sunday), three days after His death. Jesus was arrested on Thursday night, crucified on the cross on Friday morning and buried same day in the evening, after hanging on the cross for six hours. He resurrected on the third day, being Sunday or First Day of the Week (Matt 28:1-8; Mk16:1-8; Lk 24:1-2; John 20:1-9), which was few days into the Jewish feast of Unleavened Bread (Matt 26:17), some days to the Jewish Pentecost, otherwise called Feast of Weeks or Feast of Fruits (Num 28:26-31). Jesus took part in the Passover feast before He was arrested and crucified (Matt 26:17-21); The Passover was the initial Jewish festival which took place on the fourteenth day of the first month (Nisan). The feast of Unleavened Bread began on the fifteenth to the twenty first day of the same month of Nisan (lasts one week). Fifty days after this feast was the Pentecost, also called Feast of Fruits or Feast of Weeks (Lev 23:15-16; Num 28:16-17).
After resurrection, Jesus spent forty days on earth (Acts 1:3) during which time he appeared to:
1. Mary Magdalene at the tomb (Mk 16:9-11; Jn 20:1-18).
2. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (Matt. 28:9-10)
3. Two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Mk 16:12-13; Lk 24:13-32)
4. Peter in Jerusalem (Lk 24:34).
5. Ten disciples in the upper room (Lk 24:36-43; Jn 20:19-25).
6. Eleven disciples in the upper room (Mk 16:14; Jn 20:26-31; 1 Cor. 15:5).
7. Eleven disciples fishing on the Sea of Galilee (Jn 21:1-3).
8. Eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee (Matt 28:16-20; Mk 16:15-18).
9. More than 500 people (1 Cor 15:6).
10. James (1 Cor 15:7).
11 At the Ascension on the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:3-8).
12 Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19).
CHURCH IN PROPHESY AND IN WORK
The origin of the church rests on God’s promises made through divine prophecies, that the Saviour of the world will come at the appointed time (Gen 3:15; 22:18; 21:12; Mal. 1:2-3; Gen 49:10; Ps 32:11). That the Saviour will establish a kingdom that will last forever (Dan 2:44; 7:13-14; Micah 4:1-5; Matt 16:18-19; Mk 9:1; Lk 24:46-49; Act 1:8). The kingdom is the church which means “people called out of sin in obedience to the gospel of Christ” (11 Thess 2:14; Rm 1:16; 1 Pet 1:23; Jam 1:27; Mk 16:15-16; 11 Tim 1:8-10; Mk 9:1-2; Col 1:13-14).
To purchase and establish the church, the owner, Jesus Christ, had to pay a price. The price was His blood, shed upon His death on the cross of Calvary (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 1:18-19).
Established in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost with initial membership of about three thousand souls converted on the same day, the church grew, as predicted in Daniel 2:44; 7:14, 27, to become a mighty force in the world. And soon, multitudes were added to the church (Act 5:14; 6:1). The growth was phenomenal such that within thirty years Paul could say that the gospel had come to “all the world” and that “every creature” under heaven had been preached to (Col 1: 5-6, 23). The church of Christ started in Jerusalem (Acts 2); and spread to Samaria (Acts 8:5-12); Caesarea (Acts 10); Antioch of Syria (Acts 11:19-21); Paphos and Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:6-49); Iconium and Lystra (Acts 14:1-23); Philippi (Acts 16:12-40); Thessalonica, Berea, Athens (Acts 17: 1-34); Corinth (Acts 18:1-11); and to other parts of the world.
THE WORK OF THE CHURCH
The work of the early church centred on:
1. Preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, which was revolutionary and contrary to Jewish beliefs and practices (Matt 28:19; Mk 16:15, 16; Act 2: 14-41, 47; 8:4; Rom 1:16, 17; 11 Tim 4:1 -5);
2. Conversion of souls and teaching members the doctrine of Christ so as to make the converts grow spiritually (Matt 28:20; Act 9:31; 1 Cor 14:26; Eph 4:11-16);
3. Planting new congregations as well as;
4. Helping the needy saints (members) by providing material needs (Js 1:27; Act 6:1-4; 11:29-30; Rm 15:25,26; 1 Cor 16: 1-2).
Inexplicably, the persecutions which caused church members to flee from one location to another provided the tonic which propelled the gospel message to be carried to many cities in the world. This development led to great conversions of both the Jews and the Gentiles to Christianity as well as the establishment of vast number of local churches everywhere. Thus, the message of the cross spread like wild fire through the nooks and crannies of the Roman Empire and, indeed, the world. The New Testament Scripture was not, at that time, written in a single force as we have it today. It was only the Old Testament that existed. Therefore, the Holy Spirit endowed the Christians with various gifts which enabled them to teach and edify the church to fullness (1 Cor 12:1-11).
WORSHIP OF THE EARLY CHURCH
The worship of God, which is an act of reverence to the Almighty, was conducted on the First Day of the week (Acts 2:41-47; 20:7; 1 Cor 16:1-2) when Christians assembled for this purpose. Because of persecution worship was conducted mostly in the evening period when detection by the authorities would not be completely feasible, and official working hours would have ended. The First Day of the week was not yet made a public holiday so people had to work before giving time for worship.
During Worship The Early Church Did The Following (Act 2:42, 47):
1. Apostles Doctrine (teaching and preaching), called the doctrine of Christ (Matt 28:19, 20; Jn 7:16; 11 Jn 9:10);
2. Giving and Fellowship, called fellowship of ministering to the saints (11 Cor 8:4; 1 Cor 16:1-2; 11 Cor 9:6,7);
3. Communion, called breaking of bread (Act 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor 11:23-34);
4. Prayer, called prayers, humble requests and supplications to God (Act 2:42; 1 Thess 5:17; 1 Tim 2:1); and
5. Singing, called praising God and making melody in the heart to God (Acts 16: 25; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; Heb13:15; I Cor 14:15, 19).
The church was One Body organized into local units in different locations, under the supreme rulership of Jesus Christ who is the only Head (Eph 1:22-23; Col 1:18). He thus gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists; and some pastors; and some teachers for specified works in the body of Christ (Eph 4:11-15).
Bishops, who were also called elders or overseers, or pastors, or presbyters were in charge of each local church, with the assistance of deacons (Acts 20:17, 28; Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Pet 5:1-3; 1 Tim 3:1-13). Their duty was to oversee the local church. They watched for souls, ruled and fed the flock. In each local church there was a plurality (more than one)of of elders (Acts 11: 30; 14:23; 20:17; Phil 1:1; Titus 1:5; I Tim 5:17; Titus 1:5; Jas 5:14; I Pet 5:1, 5). There is no instance of only one bishop (elder or overseer) in a local church in the New Testament Scriptures.
The hope of the early Christians was the desire to go to heaven as promised by Christ (Jn 14:1-4; Eph 4:4; 1 Pet 1:3, 4; Col 1:5).