Introduction to the church of Christ (Historical Lineage)
Some denominations claim the ability to trace their historical lineage (an unbroken link of churches throughout history) directly to John the Baptist. Of course, this is impossible to do and is a false claim. The Lord’s church was not in existence while John was alive.
John, himself, said,
“In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand! For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight. And John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, We have Abraham as our father. For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire . I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:1-12).
John was a prophet, pointing to Jesus and the kingdom yet to be built. Of John, Jesus said,
“As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written: Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You. Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:7-11). How could John be so great and yet “the least in the kingdom be greater than John?” Very simply, John was never to see the kingdom of which he prophesied. He was beheaded by Herod before the kingdom (church) was established.
John was beheaded by Herod (Mt. 14:1-10) Jesus promised to build the church in a future time, after John’s death (Mt. 16:13-19). The church actually began in Jerusalem after the death of Christ (Acts 1, 2)
No church, Catholic or Protestant, can trace its historical lineage to New Testament times. The oldest denominations are too young in age to be a New Testament church. How far back can the roots of denominations be traced? Notice the following dates of origin:
1. Roman Catholic Church – Rome, 606 A.D., with Boniface III as pope.
2.Lutheran Church – 1520 A. D., Germany, with Martin Luther’s writings as authority
3.Episcopalian – 1534, England, when Henry VIII broke with Roman Catholicism
4.Presbyterian -1536, Switzerland, led by John Calvin
5.Congregational -1550 A.D., England, by Robert Browne
6.Baptist – 1607, Holland, by John Smythe
7.Methodist – 1739, England, by John Wesley
8.Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) – 1830, America, by Joseph Smith
9.Adventists – 1830, America, by William Miller
10.Christian Scientist – 1866, America, by Mary Baker Eddy
11.Jehovah’s Witnesses – 1872, America, by Charles T. Russell
As a matter of fact, at the time Jesus built his kingdom (church), no denomination of any kind was in existence. The church of Jesus Christ was established in 33 A.D., in the city of Jerusalem on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 1, 2). Any denomination that had its origin by another founder than Jesus cannot be the church that belongs to Christ. Any denomination that is younger than 33 A.D. cannot be the Lord’s church. Any denomination that was begun in another location than Jerusalem cannot be the Lord’s church. Any denomination that follows a creed other than the Bible cannot be the Lord’s church. Notice the Biblical history of the Lord’s church:
– Subject of Prophecy:
– Distant Fulfillment promised 2 Samuel 7:12-16
– the kingdom to be in David’s lineage (Christ) Isaiah 2
– the kingdom to begin at Jerusalem Daniel 2
– the kingdom to begin in the days of Roman kings Joel 2
– the kingdom to begin with power from the Holy Spirit
– Subject of Prophecy:
– Near Fulfillment promises Mt. 3:2 (Mk. 1:1-8)
– John, the kingdom is at hand Mk. 1:14-15
– Jesus, the kingdom is at hand Mt. 16:13-19
– Jesus, the kingdom is promised Mk. 9:1
– Jesus, the kingdom to be established in life-time of hearers
– Prophecy fulfilled:
– the kingdom of Christ is established at Jerusalem Acts 1-2 (notice 2:30-31)
– throne of David established at Jesus’ resurrection Acts 2:47
– saved people added to the church in Jerusalem Col. 1:13
– people continually added to the kingdom (church)
Churches of Christ listed in New Testament as in existence during apostles’ life:
– Acts 1:36-47; 6:1; 8:1-4 Judea and Samaria
– Acts 1:8; 8:5; 9:31 Uttermost parts of the earth
– Acts 1:8 Gentiles added to the church
– Acts 10, 11, 15 Antioch
– Acts 11:19-24 Asia Minor
– Paul’s first missionary journey: Acts 13:1-28
– Paul’s second journey: Acts 15:36–16:5
(Macedonian call) Europe
– Paul’s third journey: Acts 18:23–21:8
– Rome – Romans 1:1-7
– Corinth – 1 Cor. 1:1-2; 2 Cor. 1:1-2
– Churches of Galatia – Gal. 1:1-2
– Ephesus – Eph. 1:1-2
– Philippi – Phil. 1:1-2
– Colossae – Col. 1:1-2
– Thessalonica – 1 Thes. 1:1-2; 2 Thes. 1:1-2
– churches in private homes – 1 Cor. 16:18; Col. 4:16, etc.
– Seven churches of Asia – Rev. 1:10–3:32
Thus, overwhelming evidence exists in scripture to prove that the church foreseen by the prophets and promised by Jesus actually started in Acts 2 in Jerusalem and spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond in New Testament times. Yet, as the New Testament ends, not a single denomination existed!
However, the Holy Spirit testified that the Lord’s church would become divided, that apostasy (a great falling away from the faith) would occur. The apostle Paul warned the Ephesian elders that such division would come (Acts 20:17-31).
Forces of division were already at work in Corinth during Paul’s lifetime (1 Cor. 1:10-13). The Holy Spirit expressly testified about a “departure” from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1-6; 2 Tim. 4:1-4). The apostle John warned of those who, though in the church, were not satisfied with the truth but who placed themselves above the truth (the Gnostic heresy) – 1 John 1; 2 John 9-11; 3 John 9. Satan was at work to combat the church by creating division among believers. This division remains to this day, growing worse as more denominations are formed.
The first full-fledged denomination, distinct from the church of Jesus Christ was the Roman Catholic church (see 1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Thes. 2:1-15). The first pope (an office unknown to the New Testament), Boniface III, was appointed in 606 A.D. (600 years after the Lord’s church began). This was a culmination of many departures from truth. Note the following traditions of men that led to the beginning of Roman Catholicism: church councils; hierarchy (diocesan bishops, cardinals, popes, synods, monks, nuns, convents, monasteries, etc.); holy water (about 120 A.D.); doctrine of penance (about 157 A.D.); worship of Mary (about the 4th century); doctrine of Purgatory (5-6th century); extreme unction (6th century); celibacy of priests and nuns (11th century); sale of indulgences (12th century); instruments of music in worship (666 A.D.); sprinkling for baptism (introduced in 3rd century, but fully adopted in 1311); plus the use of the Rosary, lighting of candles, burning of incense, sacramental system, Christmas, Easter, Lent, prayers to dead saints, etc.
Contrary to the teachings of Catholicism, Peter was never a pope. He was married, an equal among equal apostles, and rebuked by Paul for sins (Gal. 2:11-14). The church was not built upon Peter (a mere man), but upon the confession of the deity of Jesus as the Son of God, the true rock (Mt. 16:13-19).
As Roman Catholicism grew, it became abusive and authoritarian, forbidding common people (non-priests) to read the Bible, denying them access to God’s grace except by the sacerdotal system of a corrupt priesthood. Religion plunged into darkness, persecution, and ignorance. Creeds, traditions of men and superstitions bound people to error while truth was withheld from them.
In these centuries of “dark ages,” men arose who “protested” against the doctrines and practices of Roman Catholicism. From this crucible of persecution and error came a religious uprising known historically as the “Protestant Reformation.” At the front of the battle was Martin Luther (followed by many others) who attempted to “reform” the apostate church. Unsuccessful at reform, their efforts led to a splintering of the Catholic church. Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, etc. all had their beginnings as competing creeds were formed to explain departures from the Catholic church. These Protestant churches further divided, divided again, and continue to divide today. In America, there has been an explosion of denominations, too numerous to mention, but numbering in the hundreds. Most of us have become accustomed to the situation, not realizing that this is, indeed, a far cry from the unity that was intended for believers in Christ.
In this cauldron of boiling religious division, we need to recall the words of Jesus about the unity which we have failed to cultivate. He said:
“Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth. “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
In keeping with this, the apostle Paul commanded unity:
“Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor. 1:10-13).
The Bible outlines the completeness of unity in Eph. 4:1-6:
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
Thus, Jesus prayed for unity, that “all believers might be one.” Paul instructed that we should “all speak the same thing,” “that there be no division,” and that we all be “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” This unity is found in the one body of Christ, the church (Eph. 4:4-6; Eph. 1:22-23). It is to our shame today that Jesus’ prayer goes unanswered, that Paul’s instructions remain unheeded. Denominationalism, so common and accepted, is wrong and sinful. There has to be a way of unity for believers in Jesus Christ.
By: Tom M. Roberts