“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”-Matthew 16:18
When did the church begin? For many in the Dispensational camp, they believe that the church began on the Day of Pentecost. If one holds this view, there are certain questions that need to be addressed: first, how are we to regard the saints in the Old Testament? Secondly, what is the meaning of the word church? If we understand these two questions correctly, we can then answer the fundamental question of when the church began. There is a great book that covers a variety of areas concerning the Doctrine of the Church written by R.B. Kuiper called The Glorious Body of Christ. Rather than regurgitating what Kuiper states concerning this topic, I will simply allow him to speak to you:
“If we know precisely what the church is, it should not be difficult to determine whether or not it existed before Pentecost. Now the Apostle’s Creed defines the church as ‘the communion of the saints.’ It is just as correct to say that it is the communion of believers. Was there a communion of believers in the Old Testament? There certainly was. Ever since the fall of man there has been but one Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and but one way of being saved; namely, through faith in Him. As New Testament saints are saved through faith in the Christ of history, so Old Testament saints were saved through faith in the Christ of prophecy. The Christ of prophecy and the Christ of history are, of course, identical. And so Isaiah, David, Abraham, Abel and a host of others were members of the one body of Christ, His church. And if we assume, as undoubtedly we may, that Adam and Eve believed the promise of God that the seed of the serpent would indeed bruise the heel of the seed of the woman, but that the woman’s seed would bruise the serpent’s head, then it may be asserted that they constituted the first Christian church.”
Kuiper’s point is, as stated above, that the church has spanned the ages, and did not begin at Pentecost, but came to maturity at Pentecost. There is, no doubt, that Pentecost was a significant event in the redemptive history of the Lord. We have discussed this previously, that Pentecost marks the time that the Spirit came upon all believers to empower them for ministry. In the Old Testament, only certain ones had the Spirit come upon them for the service that God had commissioned them to do, though the Spirit indwelt all believers. It is also worthy to note that in Matthew 16, Jesus states that He will build His church. He did not say He was going to create His church because His church already existed. His atonement was an atonement, not only for the sins of those in His day and for future believers, but it was an atonement for all believers from Adam until His return. The blood of Christ has purchased the assembly of believers past, present, and future. There is only one church; it has existed from the beginning, and we have the privilege of being part of that assembly.
Joshua Banks is senior pastor and founder of Shepherd’s Rock Bible
Church in Kingsport, TN. He holds a Bachelors degree in Ministry from
Luther Rice University, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies, and a
Master of Divinity both from Liberty University. Joshua and his wife
Amanda, along with their 5 children, reside in Gate City, VA.