The picture God gives us of the church of Jesus Christ is composed of brush strokes found in both old and new testaments. The Mosaic prophets talked about an eternal, indestructible kingdom that would encompass men and women of every race. It would have its relationship with God through a covenant radically different from the one made with Israel. It would be a covenant of grace, welcoming any and all who would come to God through faith.
In the New Testament, the church is unveiled first in the teachings of John the baptizer, and more fully by the sayings and work of Jesus of Nazareth. Every part of the revelation given to the apostles and prophets of Christ teach us something about the church of Christ. Instruction about every important concern regarding its nature, work, government, relationships, entrance and destiny can be found in the Spirit-inspired words of new covenant scripture.
One of the most revealing sections with regard to the church of Jesus Christ is the second chapter of Acts. Following the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the physician/historian Luke is used by the Spirit of God to record the events of the actual beginning of this new fellowship.
The Jewish feast of Pentecost brought thousands of worshipers to Jerusalem. God used the occasion to preach the gospel in its fullness to a large crowd in the temple environs. Through the presentation of messianic prophecies from the Jewish scriptures, the apostle forcefully applied the word of God to Jesus (much as Jesus himself had done during his work on earth), and convicted hundreds of his Jewish brethren of the horrible sin of killing the Son of God! The word was so powerful, these desperate children of Abraham immediately begged the apostles for an answer to their predicament: “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Peter eagerly gave them the answer, in keeping with the words of Jesus, “Repent and be baptized [read “immersed”], every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
The result of preaching the powerful gospel of grace was that some 3,000 believed and were baptized that day, and multiplied thousands in the days and weeks following.
With this brief narrative, the historian Luke gives us the beginning of the church which Jesus promised his apostles he would build (Matthew 16:18 and context). Their fellowship was such that it held them together with a bond of love for God and one another. The rest of Acts — in fact the entire New Testament — is used to show the relationship of the ministry of grace in Jesus Christ to the work of God through the church, the body of Christ.
As we think seriously about the church, we should not overlook the fact that the same church Jesus promised to build, and we learn about in the holy scripture, is the same one God wants to exist and prosper today, following the divine picture found in the New Testament. Neither the church of Christ then (one of several inspired designations for God’s people), nor Jesus’ spiritual brothers and sisters today, are perfect — from it.
But we are the children of a patient and loving heavenly Father, who is still willing, even eager, to forgive. Thank God!!