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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15


Did Jesus Found the Church? -

If So, When?

Roy Mason, Th.D.

From the book, The Church That Jesus Built, 1923 (Chapter 2)

“Protestantism has a confused idea of the origin of the church. Some say that it began with Abraham, and others tell us that it began on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of our Lord. There is absolutely not one scintilla of evidence in the Bible or out of it that the church was founded or began on Pentecost. If those who claim Pentecost as the birthday of the church will search the records they will find that any church born on that day or afterwards is too late to receive any commission from our Lord . . . It follows, scripturally and logically, that any church born on Pentecost or any day thereafter has no commission from our Lord to do anything and must be a human institution and not a divine one." —J. T. Moore, in Why I Am A Baptist.


The Baptist belief in the perpetuity of their churches in­volves several questions. The correct answer to these ques­tions will go far toward paving the way for a proper examination of their claims. Among the more important of these questions are the following:


  1. Did Jesus found the church?
  2. If so, when?
  3. What kind of a church was it?
  4. Did He promise its perpetuity?


So well established is the fact that Jesus founded the church that it seems almost superfluous for us to spend time considering the first question propounded above. However, it will perhaps not be amiss for us to spend a few moments on this question, as there are to be found here and there those who either openly or by implication deny that Jesus founded a church. It is a common thing for destructive critics of our day to try to array Jesus and Paul against each other, and to try to show that Jesus never had in mind the founding of a church at all. Such critics would have us believe that the disciples, and particularly Paul, foisted the church upon the world without divine warrant. In substance it is the claim that they substituted a church of their own devising for the Kingdom of Jesus' thinking and purpose.


There are some denominations that embrace a theory that practically denies to Jesus the founding of a church. They advance the claim that the church existed back in Old Testa­ment times, and that the church of the New Testament times and of the present is merely a continuation of the church that has existed all the way from the days of Israel's beginning.


Those who hold such a theory do not see any essential difference between the economy of the Old Testament and the New, but hold that baptism is meant to occupy the same place in the church of the present that circumcision held in the "church" of Israel. This theory plainly denies by implication that Jesus founded a church. For it is evident that He could not have founded the church if it already existed at the time of His coming.


For the one who believes the New Testament to be the inspired Word of God, the question, "Did Jesus found a church?" is once for all answered in the affirmative by Matthew 16:18, in which Jesus Himself makes the statement, "I will build my church." That the gospels record Him as mentioning the church but twice, is a matter of no moment in view of the fact that after His ascension and glorification, as recorded in the Revela­tion, we find Him speaking of the church a number of times.


And indeed, if the Lord had only mentioned the church one time, that ought to be enough so far as the validity of His promise is concerned. A statement made only once may be just as true as one reiterated a thousand times. The point is, Jesus said He would build His church. A little later He tells the dis­ciples of a matter that should be taken before the church for its discipline. In His words He clearly indicates that the church is then already in existence. So we have His promise of the church; the clear implication in His own words of the fulfill­ment of that promise; the New Testament account of the church from its beginning on for many years, and the testimony of history to the effect that the church of Christ is an institution that has existed only from the time of Christ.


If Christ's words in Matthew 16:18 mean anything at all, they must mean that the institution which He promised was one separate and distinct from any institution that had pre­viously existed in the world, or existed at that time. It will presently be shown that the disciples were already thoroughly familiar with the word "ecclesia" or "church," and its meaning. But Jesus indicated very clearly that the institution which He proposed would be a new one, distinct and to be distinguished from all other "ecclesias" by the fact that it was to be HIS church, built upon an entirely different foundation than any ecclesia in existence at that time.


Having determined from the New Testament that Jesus be­gan a church, let us now turn to a brief consideration of the further question,


WHEN DID JESUS BEGIN HIS CHURCH?


This becomes an important question in view of the heretical teachings so widespread in our day. Several very dangerous heresies spring out of the theory that the church began on the day of Pentecost. One of these is the "Invisible Church theory," which leans very heavily upon the Pentecostal assumption. Then there is the theory so widely promulgated by Dr. C. I. Scofield, Dr. James M. Gray of the Moody Bible Institute, and others, that the church was formed on the day of Pentecost by the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and that every believer becomes a member of the universal Church similarly, by being baptized into it by the Holy Spirit. This is really a most absurd theory. It rests principally upon a perversion of I Cor. 12:13, and an examina­tion of the context of this Scripture is fatal to the theory. Dr. Scofield (Synthesis of Bible Truth, p. 42) plainly says of the church, "This body could not begin to exist before the exaltation of Christ and the descent of the Holy Spirit." He also goes so far as to say that a church before the death of Christ would have been an unredeemed church. This is as much as to say that none of the disciples were saved previous to Pentecost!


Those who are unwilling to admit Baptist perpetuity struggle desperately to show that the church was not in existence before Pentecost. Nothing else fits their theory of an "invisible" Church.


What, then, are the facts? When was the church begun? I shall not take the space to go into details, but will put the answer in one sentence: Out of material prepared by John the Baptist, Jesus organized and founded His church during the days of His personal ministry here on the earth.


In this belief I am not alone. Dr. L. R. Scarborough, presi­dent of one of the largest theological seminaries in the world, in a recent article in the Baptist Standard is quoted as saying: "It is certainly true that Christ in His own personal ministry established His church."


A lengthy chapter could be written to prove my statement, but I must confine myself to a few reasons. First, let me ask, did not they have all of the essential things that go to make up a church before Pentecost? Let us see:


† They had the Gospel (Mark 1:1).

† They were baptized believers. The apostles had been disciples of John, having been baptized by    him (Acts 1:22). Of John's baptism, we are told that it was from heaven (John 1:33).

† They had an organization. They had a treasurer, though he turned out to be a dishonest  one.

† They had the same Head that the church of today has, Christ.

† They had the ordinance of baptism.

† They had the ordinance of the Lord's Supper.

† They had the Great Commission.

† They met together as a church for prayer preceding Pente­cost.

† Moreover, they even had a business meeting and selected one to take Judas' place.


In an attempt to discredit this action of the church, Dr. Scofield (Scofield Bible notes) makes the claim that the disciples erred in doing this. He claims that God ignored their choice by later calling Paul for this place, and affirms that we find no further mention of Matthias in the New Testament. In this he casts an unwarranted aspersion upon that New Testament church. Moreover, his statement about Matthias is not true to the Scriptures, for in a later chapter (Acts 6:2-6) the Holy Spirit recognizes Matthias as an apostle by mentioning him as one of the twelve. Dr. Scofield seeks to fit the incident of Matthias' selection with his theory that the church began on the (lay of Pentecost, and his effort merely betrays how far men will go in order to seek to sustain a theory.


Again, that the church existed before Pentecost is shown in that we are distinctly told that Christ sang praises in the midst of the church. Heb. 2:12 says, "I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church I will sing praises unto thee." This passage is quoted by the inspired writer of Hebrews from the twenty-second Psalm. To what incident in the life of Christ does it refer? Upon what occasion did He sing praises ill the midst of the church? Turn to Mark 14:26, and you will find the occasion mentioned. It was following the institution of the ordinance of the Lord's Supper that Jesus in the midst of His little church joined with them in singing a hymn. That Christ sang praises in the midst of the church before Pentecost, carries without saying that the church existed before that time.


Exegetical and eisegetical ingenuity has been exerted to give the passage just quoted some other meaning, but the fact re­mains that the interpretation that I have indicated is the simplest and most natural one.


In the third place, that the church existed before Pentecost is clearly shown by Acts 2:41, where we read that on the day of Pentecost ". . . There were added unto them about three thousand souls." Since they were believers added by baptism, It is very evident that what they were added to was the church. If I should tell a friend that I had recently added a hundred dollars to my account, he would understand me to imply that I had in existence a bank account previous to the time of my depositing the hundred dollars. A church was necessarily already in existence on the day of Pentecost, else it could not have been "added to." It is unless to argue that the three thousand were merely added to the ranks of believers and not to the church, for the same language is used in the 47th verse, where we are told that the "Lord added to them day by day those that were saved." (American Revision) None will deny that "them" in the 47th verse refers to the church. Indeed, the Authorized Version translates "church" instead of "them." Does the 47th verse indicate the existence of a church any more strongly than the 41st? Indeed it does not. Only those in des­perate straits to maintain a theory would deny that the three thousand baptized on Pentecost were added to a church that already existed, for that is what the language irresistibly leads one to conclude.


Again, let us read the Master's words as recorded in Matthew 18:17, 'If he shall neglect to hear them, tell it to the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and publican." The context shows that these words were addressed to His disciples. His words would lead one to believe that they constituted His church in its incipient stage. Indeed, the belief that the apostles themselves were the first members of the church is in exact accord with I Cor. 12:28, where we read, "And God hath set some in the church, FIRST apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers," etc.


One may speculate and theorize upon Matthew 18:17 all they please, but still it remains unreasonable to believe that Jesus referred to something that the disciples did not understand, or that He indicated a rule of discipline relating to a church that did not exist. To the one that accepts this passage at its face value it appears conclusive that the church was in existence at the time that Jesus spoke these words.


In the fifth place, let us note that if the church did not exist before Pentecost, then the Great Commission was given only to the disciples as individuals, consequently is not binding upon the church. Unwilling to concede a church before Pente­cost, Dr. C. I. Scofield takes this very position. In his Synthesis of Bible Truth (p. 431), he says: "The visible church as such is charged with no mission . . . The commission to evangelize the world is personal and not corporate." If this theory be true, than the Great Commission was binding only upon the apostles, and when they died the obligation no longer rested upon any­one. This view is as absurd as it is unscriptural.


No, Jesus gave the Commission to His disciples in corporate capacity. He delivered it to them as a church. His church He charged with the task of evangelization. His church He charged with the duty of baptizing and teaching. And knowing all things, He knew that His church would have that continuity essential for the carrying out of His orders.


Similarly, let us note that, unless the church existed pre­vious to Pentecost, the Lord's Supper is not a church ordinance. If He gave it only to individuals as such, when they died the ordinance died with them. We cannot believe this in the light of Paul's account of the institution of the Supper as given in I Cor. 11. Here, according to the account given, Jesus clearly implied that this memorial ordinance will be observed "till He come again." The individuals who were present at the Supper have been dead for centuries, and still He has not come. Evi­dently it was not to individuals as such that He gave the ordinance, but to individuals as constituting the church. Only this church, the church to which continuous existence has been promised, could observe the Memorial Meal continuously from the time of its institution until He comes again.


And obviously, if Jesus gave the Memorial Supper to His church that church must have been in existence at the time He gave it. That time preceded Pentecost!


I close the chapter by quoting Dr. Scarborough from the article before mentioned. He admirably sums up the facts con­cerning Christ's founding of the church in these words:


"When He ascended He left the church some of its officers, the apostles, not to be permanent, to be sure; its foundation of faith; its laws of life; its ordinances; its commission; its great world task; the terms and conditions of admittance; the new birth based on repentance and faith in Christ; He left it its great central dynamic theme and power—Jesus crucified, buried, risen, coming again—; He gave it the promise of the Holy Spirit.


“After He ascended, this unit and growing corporate organiza­tion called out and appointed officers to take Judas' place--Acts 1:15-26. This was the act of the church. Then in the first chapter of Acts we find this church well organized, already established under the personal ministry of Christ and by Him set to the task of evangelism; and through the Holy Spirit it held its first great meeting.


“Then in Acts the sixth chapter we find the organization completed by the addition of deacons; and so it had two sets of officers—pastors and deacons; two ordinances—baptism and the Supper; a democratic form of or­ganization, as was shown in the election of Matthias to take Judas' place and the election of the deacons. The church itself was the authority in these appointments. Thus we can see that through the process of years Jesus Himself organized His church and under the direction of the Divine Spirit deacons were added to the organization after Pentecost. It can in all the highest senses claim Christ as its organizer and central authority and power."