H. Leo Boles
We are taught in the New Testament that Jesus would build but one church. He called this one “my church” (Matt. 16:18). We are to inquire what sort of church Christ did build. In order to determine the church that Christ built, we must go back through more than 20 centuries and visit Jerusalem on that eventful Pentecost which occurred after the ascension of Christ to the Father. We must examine with unbiased minds the preaching of Peter on that day.
Peter’s Sermon In Acts 2
On this Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and they began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. There were physical manifestations that accompanied the miraculous descent of the Holy Spirit. When these manifestations were noised abroad, a great multitude came together.
There were dwelling in Jerusalem at that time Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. They had come to Jerusalem to keep the Passover and had remained to keep the feast of Pentecost 50 days later. When they came together, they heard the apostles speaking in their own tongues and were confused about what they heard. They did not understand the extraordinary events that were taking place. Some even concluded that the apostles were drunken and made that charge.
But Peter, speaking by the Holy Spirit, denied the charge and explained the phenomenon. He said those events were in fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel. He continued to speak and quoted from David to show that Jesus of Nazareth was the long-looked-for Messiah. He convinced many in the multitude. They had crucified the Christ who had been raised from the dead and ascended back to the Father. By Peter’s words, they came to belief in Christ.
Terms Of Admission
When the multitude had been convinced that the Messiah had been crucified, many of them said, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter then continued and said, “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. 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” (Acts 2:38-39). “Then they that were gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).
Here we have the first preaching that was done under the commission that Jesus had given the apostles after His resurrection. He had said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15-16). The terms of remission of sins were the terms of admission into the church. These people complied with them and were added to His church.
They continued steadfastly in the apostles teaching, which means they were instructed how to live in the church. So the preaching of the Gospel was essential to making church members. The Gospel must be believed, sins must be repented of, and people must be baptized into Christ in order to become members of this church.
The Test Applied
Suppose that Peter were to arrive in this country today. What church would he attach himself to? If he could find a church with the terms of admission like he preached on Pentecost, then he would know that was a church of Christ. If he did not find a church with the same terms of membership, he would know that church was not the one Christ built.
If Peter should join any one of the present-day denominations, he would put himself in a church that Christ did not build. It is impossible for us to think that an inspired apostle would put himself into a church established by uninspired men and governed by uninspired regulations. If he should join the Methodist Church, he would have to subscribe to the Methodist Discipline. If he should join one of the Baptist Churches, he would have to subscribe to its peculiar creed. If he should join the Presbyterian Church, he would have to subscribe to its Confession of Faith. None of these admit people on the same terms that Peter preached on the day of Pentecost in Acts two.
Christ’s Church Today
Since we can learn from the New Testament what it took to establish the church of Christ on the day of Pentecost, and since the Gospel that was preached on that day is preached now, and people hear it, believe it, and obey it today just as they did in Acts two, we have the same church that was established on Pentecost.
If the members of this church continue steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship and breaking of bread and prayers as the first members did, we will have a church like the one that was established on Pentecost. In fact, we would have the identical church that was established on Pentecost.
If people know what was preached on Pentecost and what was believed and practiced, and know what is preached and practiced today, they can know, or identify, the church of Christ and distinguish it from religious denominations. People today need not be mistaken or confused. It is possible for the same Gospel to be preached that was preached then, for people to believe the same Gospel as they did then and to live as they did then as members of the church. This would then constitute them members of the church of Christ, and make a group of such people a church of Christ.