Lesson 5 – The Establishment of the Church
THE NEED FOR ESTABLISHING CHURCHES
Why is there a need to establish the churches? The universal church has already been formed by the Triune God, but where can people see it? This glorious church must be practical and real to people. Local churches are needed so that people may see God’s glory. Before the Lord ascended to heaven, He said in Acts 1:8, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and unto the remotest part of the earth.” He desires that man would express Him everywhere, from Jerusalem to the remotest part of the earth. Local churches are His practical expression and His testimony. Therefore, local churches must be established all over the inhabited earth for the sake of His testimony. The apostles, in Acts, began to establish the local churches and we are continuing this process until the Lord’s return.
THE PATTERN OF THE APOSTLES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
In this section we shall give a history of the planting of local churches recorded in the New Testament. According to this record, the planting of the churches began in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost and went as far as Rome. Although Paul wanted to go to Spain, he was not able to do so. Therefore, during New Testament times, the planting of the churches went only as far as Italy.
Starting from Jerusalem
The establishment of the churches began from the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1), and it started from the city of Jerusalem (Acts 2:5).
The First Local Church— the Church in Jerusalem
The first local church was the church in Jerusalem. The first mention of the church in Acts is in 5:11. “Great fear came upon the whole church.” This was the church in Jerusalem. Acts 8:1 clearly speaks of “the church in Jerusalem.” This was the first church established in a locality within the jurisdiction of a city, the city of Jerusalem. It was a local church in its locality, as indicated by the Lord in Matthew 18:17. It was not the universal church, as revealed by the Lord in Matthew 16:18 but only a part of the universal church, which is the Body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23). The record of the New Testament concerning the matter of the establishment of the church in its locality is consistent throughout (Acts 13:1; 14:23; Rom. 16:1; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 8:1; Gal. 1:2; Rev. 1:4, 11).
Composed of the Elders
The church in Jerusalem was composed of the elders, the serving ones, and the believers. Acts 11:30 speaks of a gift sent “to the elders through the hand of Barnabas and Saul.” This indicates that in the early days the finances of the church were under the management of the elders. An elder is an overseer (1 Tim. 3:1). The two titles refer to the same person: elder, denoting a person of maturity; overseer, denoting the function of an elder.
The Serving Ones
Acts 6:3-6 speaks of seven serving ones in the church in Jerusalem. Acts 6:3 says, “Now brothers, select seven well-attested men from among you, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we shall appoint over this need.” Seven brothers were chosen. Since these seven were chosen to serve tables, they may be considered deacons, just as those whom Paul and his co-workers appointed later in the churches (Rom. 16:1; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8).
It is significant that in the appointment of the seven serving ones no leader was appointed. This indicates that no rank or position was regarded. All the serving ones are the servants to the saints. This is a good pattern for us to learn and follow that we may avoid leadership in rank and position in any form.
Two verses that speak of the believers who composed the church in Jerusalem are Acts 2:44 and 5:14. Acts 2:44 says, “All those who believed were together and had all things common,” and 5:14 says, “Believers were all the more being added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and of women.” The designation believers denotes those who have believed in Christ as the Son of God according to God’s New Testament economy. This designation, of course, indicates the matter of believing. Anyone who does not have faith in Christ, who does not believe in Christ, is certainly not a believer. The believers are also those who have received Christ as their generating life for them to become the children of God. Furthermore, the believers are those who have believed into Christ as the Son of God to have an organic union with Him. The church is composed of such believers.
Spreading to Judea, Samaria, and Galilee
The establishing of the churches spread quickly from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. Acts 9:31 says, “So the church throughout the whole of Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it was multiplied.” This verse speaks of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, all of which were provinces in the Roman Empire. Judea was in the southern part of the Jewish land, Galilee was in the north, and Samaria was between the south and the north. There were churches in all three of these provinces.
The Jews considered Galilee a despised region and Samaria a region full of mixture. Nevertheless, 9:31 speaks of the church throughout the whole of Judea and Galilee and Samaria. This indicates that no matter how much Galilee was despised and Samaria was rejected by the Jews in Jerusalem, the churches raised up in those regions were all considered one church. In the local sense, they were the churches, but in the universal sense, all these churches are the church. Here we have a basic revelation concerning the oneness of the church universally.
Reaching Antioch in Syria
Acts 11:19-26 records the spread of the gospel to Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch through the scattered disciples. Verse 26 refers to the church in Antioch. When Barnabas found Saul, “he brought him to Antioch. And it came about that for a whole year they were gathered in the church and taught a considerable number.”
The Church in Antioch
Acts 13:1 opens with the words, “Now there were in Antioch, in the church that was there.” This clearly refers to the local church established in Antioch. Acts 14:26 and 27 say that Paul and Barnabas “sailed away to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had fulfilled. And having arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them.” Verse 27 does not say that they gathered the believers but that they gathered the church. This indicates that the church in its essential meaning is a meeting, a congregation or assembly. There was such a church, such a congregation, in Antioch.
Including Prophets and Teachers
Acts 13:1 tells us that in the church in Antioch there were “prophets and teachers: Barnabas and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius the Cyrenian, and Manaen, foster brother of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.” Prophets are those who speak for God and speak forth God by God’s revelation. They sometimes speak with inspired prediction (11:27-28). Teachers are those who teach the truths according to the apostles’ teaching (2:42) and the prophets’ revelation. Both prophets and teachers are universal as well as local (Eph. 4:11).
When the establishment of the local churches started with the one hundred twenty in Jerusalem, only typical Jews were involved. But according to the record in Acts 13:1, the prophets and teachers in the church in Antioch were from a number of different sources. Barnabas was a Levite, a Cyprian by birth (4:36). Niger, whose name means black and should denote a Negro, was probably of African origin. Lucius the Cyrenian was from Cyrene in North Africa. Manaen was the foster brother of Herod and was governmentally related to the Romans.
Finally, there was Saul, a Jew born in Tarsus and taught by Gamaliel according to the law of Moses (22:3). The fact that the prophets and teachers here were composed of Jewish and Gentile peoples with different backgrounds, education, and status indicates that the church is composed of all races and classes of people regardless of their background, and that the spiritual gifts and functions given to the members of the Body of Christ are not based upon their natural status.
In 13:1 the Lord set up a pattern for the spreading of the churches. From Antioch the Lord’s move turned to reach the Gentile world, and in the Gentile world there were many different kinds of people, people of different cultures, races, and statuses. Therefore, at the very beginning of this turn, the pattern was established to indicate that the churches are composed of all races and classes of people.