The world we live in is very different from the 1st century. On every side, we are plagued with numerous denominations of every brand. These denominations have significantly impacted the minds of many members of the body of Christ. Through printed pages, television, media, Facebook, etc., they preach their sermons and pollute the minds of the innocent. “The number of denominations varies depending on how they are defined and counted. Some sources estimate more than 200 in the U.S. and 45,000 globally, while others suggest around 30,000 or 40,000.”
With all the confusion, the question is asked, “Does the first century Church exist today” “Can we find the true church today?” Can we understand the difference between the Lord’s church and denominations? Of course, we can, but only if we go back to the Word of God for our answer. Paul wrote, “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Col. 3:17). Paul also instructed the brethren in Corinth to “. . .all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). Is it possible for all to be perfectly joined together and to all speak the same mind? Yes, absolutely, it is if we use the same guide.
The beauty of the church is that no matter what century one may live in, the church can be found because it is not a building but rather a spiritual body. The plea of the restoration movement was to go back to the Bible and do all things according to the Word of God. In 1809, Thomas Campbell spoke these words, which are still words to live by today. “Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent.” These words are in agreement with the tone of the word of God. “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Pet. 4:11).
In Matthew the 13th chapter and Luke the 8th chapter, the Lord gives us a parable about a sower who went forth to sow the seed in the ground. There are four different types of ground mentioned in both accounts. The soil in each account refers to the world, the kingdom of men. Luke refers to them as different types of hearts. Three of these hearts were influenced by the devil and worldly things. However, the last heart was a good and honest heart that received what was sowed and produced a hundred-fold. In both accounts, the seed is identified as the word of God. When the word of God is planted in a good and honest heart, it will always produce the same thing every time.
The concept of planting and reaping is a Biblical concept that God often uses when illustrating the kingdom’s growth (church). Everyone understands that when you plant a corn seed, that seed will always produce corn. Likewise, when you plant a pea seed, that seed will always produce peas. Corn seeds will never produce peas; likewise, a pea seed will never produce corn. This is true in all reproductive seeds; they will always produce after their own kind. This has been true since the beginning and is still true today. “And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so” (Gen. 1:11).
The Lord promised to build His church in Matthew 16:17-19. We learn later that it was on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) that the church was established, and the first converts were added to the church when they obeyed the gospel call by being baptized for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38; 41.47). When one obeys the gospel of Jesus Christ, they will be raised to walk in a newness of life (Rom. 6:1-5). At this point, the Lord adds the saved person to His church, and each person becomes a Christian, a child of God, and thus entitled to all spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3). This is the seed concept, when the gospel of Christ, which is the word of God is planted in the hearts of men and they receive it with joy, the result will always be the same, a child of God will be born and will be added to the New Testament church.
From this point, one begins to build upon the right foundation, and thus the church will be established at any given time and in any given place. Paul wrote, “According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:10,11). If there is a foundation to build upon, then that implies that there is a structure to build. How do we know how to build the structure? Under an inferior covenant, God commanded Moses to build the temple a certain way.
Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount. But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises (Heb. 8:5-6).
If we have received a better covenant, then does it not stand to reason that we should build the church by using the pattern set forth for us in the New Testament? If, under the Old Testament, they could build the tabernacle over in the same manner each time they moved from one place to another, then should we not think we can build the church in the same way wherever we find ourselves by using the pattern found in the New Testament? If I was going to look for the New Testament church today, here are some things I would look for. First, how does one become a member of the New Testament church? Second, How do they worship God? For example, do they believe in partaking in the Lord’s Supper each first day of the week? Do they believe in giving on the first day of the week? Do they use mechanical instruments of music, or do they believe in singing without the instruments of music? Do they practice preaching and praying on the first day of the week? (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23-29; 1 Cor. 16:1,2; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16,17; Acts 20:7; 1 Tim. 2:8).
Does the church of the first century exist today? Yes, and I am thankful for being a member of the church our Lord promised He would build and did, in fact, build.