The Church began at Pentecost with the outpouring of the Spirit (Acts 2).
First piece of evidence - There was indication that the Church was yet future in the time of Christ (Matt. 16:8 - Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ at Caesarea Philippi).
Matthew 16:15-19 “He said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' And Jesus said to him, 'Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 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. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.'"
So notice the tense of the verb “build” (in v.18).
It’s a future indicative.
Indicative - this is fact/reality, and there’s absolute certainty in the statement. It’s not a wish or desire, but a statement of fact. This is something that will happen.
Future - the formal tense of the verb is “future,” which means it’s grammaticalizing expectation.
So Christ is certain (indicative) that this building of the Church will happen (future).
Now, a person could argue that Christ will build the Church in the future, but that doesn’t necessarily negate that perhaps the Church came into being at this moment (or that it was already existing). It simply declares that the building of the Church will be a future reality.
However, this would seem to mean, then, that the Church comes into being, but then just stays stagnant for a period of time.
This makes little conceptual sense. Why would Christ bring the Church into being, and just let it sit stagnant?
The moment the Church comes into being in Acts 2 (as we’ll argue for), the Gospel immediately spreads and there’s rapid growth. There’s an explosive expanse-- a sudden and rapid growth (i.e., “building”).
Moreover, when you look at how the term, “build” (and verb tense) is used elsewhere in the NT, it’s clear that it’s speaking of the entire process as a still future reality.
Luke 12:18 - "And he said, 'This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.”
You have to tear down before you can build, so the building is yet future.
Mark 14:58 "We heard Him say, 'I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.'"
Again, there’s a destroying that must first happen, before the building can take place. So the building is yet future.
These passages would make little sense if we were to try and make that future tense anything other than future.
The entire process is future oriented.
So to try and make the Church exist prior to this statement of Christ (in Matt. 16) would require quite a bit of explanation apart from other clear texts.
Having said that, what happens, however, is usually the opposite.
There’s a lot of theological argument made that the passage can’t just mean what it says, and the reason is because a person’s theology demands it.
They’re not developing a theology from the text, but requiring a theology to demand the meaning of the text.
Second piece of evidence - The Bible’s clear that the Church is to be uniquely indwelt by the Holy Spirit (C.f., previous podcast on Spirit indwelling - we talk about the differences in the Spirit’s ministry between OT Israel and the NT Church).
But to give a little bit of this:
Jesus is promising that the Holy Spirit will come and abide with them and in them (Jn. 14:17).
He heightens expectation.
The Spirit will no longer merely be with them (i.e., among them), but now in them.
When we try to find the point in time in which this act occurs, the only time that fits the description is the Day of Pentecost.
Acts 1: 8 - “but you will 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 even to the remotest part of the earth."
Acts 2:4 - “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.”
Acts 1:38 - “Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
In the OT, the Spirit would come upon people for special power to accomplish a specific task. But there’s no indication the OT believers had the HS indwelling in them like we see in the NT Church.
All believers were regenerated by the Spirit in the OT, but that’s not the same as being baptized by Christ into the Spirit, or being indwelled by the Spirit.
In the NT, we have the Baptism of the Spirit, the indwelling of the Spirit, and the filling of the Spirit. All are unique NT ministries of the Spirit-- and specifically, during the time of the Church (listen to previous podcasts).
So all this to say, the Church is to be marked by this unique indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit, and that doesn’t happen until at least Pentecost.
This was prophesied in Ezek. 36 and Jer. 31.
There was to be a fresh, unprecedented outpouring of the Spirit, which would mark the New Covenant, and therefore mark the beginnings of the Church-- God’s New Covenant people!
So this gives some evidence that the Church begins (with its earliest inception) in Acts 2 with the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost.
Third piece of evidence - those who believe in Jesus Christ have a unique relationship with Him.
The term most often connected to those who are saved in the NT is that they are “in Christ.”
However, it’s a term that doesn’t occur in the Gospels, nor in the book of Acts. Rather, it’s this wonderful doctrine that was developed in the letters that were written to the various churches scattered about.
The emphasis is upon the union of the Church with its Head, Who is Jesus Christ.
So the term, “in Christ,” is something that’s not applied to those in the OT. This gives additional weight to the idea that there’s something very unique that is now occurring that previously didn’t occur.
Fourth piece of evidence - the gifts of the Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12 repeatedly speaks of these gifts as being of the Spirit.
However, in Eph. 4:7ff we see how this applies to this idea that the Church began at Pentecost, and with that unique, unprecedented outpouring of the Spirit.
Eph. 4:7-13 - “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says, 'WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.' (Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”
So notice, in v.8 it’s Jesus Who’s giving these gifts.
Notice also, this occured after He ascended (v. 8).
Further, in 1 Cor. 12:1-11 Paul is speaking of the gifts of the Spirit. And in v.12 he makes it clear that he’s referring to the Body… which is the Church.
1 Cor. 12:12 -- “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.”
So, in light of this, it’s right to conclude that the Church is a unique entity that’s a recipient of the gifts of the Spirit, and that this couldn’t have occurred until after Christ died, rose, and ascended, and sent forth His Spirit (which again, we see in Acts 2).
Fifth piece of evidence -- Christ is called the “Head” of the Church.
The point with this one is to ask, “at what point does the Bible say that Christ became the Head of the Church?”
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”
Note v. 22 - The Father gives Christ as Head to the Church after He went back to heaven and was seated at the right hand of the Father.
This makes little sense if the Church has always been around.
The only way it could make sense is if you want to conclude that up until Jesus’ ascension the Church was “headless.”
Sixth piece of evidence - There’s a new work being done that’s never been done before.
“Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision " by the so-called "Circumcision," which is performed in the flesh by human hands -- remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”
Notice, the dividing wall has been broken.
The Jew/Gentile distinction is no longer an issue when it comes to the Church.
They’re all equal. This is something very unique to the Church.
This was not true when Gentiles were converted into Judaism with OT Israel. There was still very much a distinction and separation.
Notice, also, v. 15 speaks of the creation of a “new man (kainos).”
Kainos = something different than before.
Neos = something that is updated, more recent, a newer version.
Paul’s point with the use of Kainos is not to try and make the Gentiles as now part of Israel (or the new “true Israel”).
Rather, it’s this joyful announcement that there’s something completely new going on (as it’s a completely new entity).
So this is far more than simply some kind of updated Israel.
This is an utterly new creation that’s completely different than something former (i.e., Israel).
So, here’s 6 pieces of evidence that lend toward the understanding that the Church began at Pentecost in Acts 2.
All sides will marshal their evidence, but in our view, these are the strongest, and make the most exegetical sense of the biblical date upon a critical examination.
To try and see the Church as having existed prior to Acts 2 requires us to make future tenses mean past tense.
It means that prior to Christ’s ascension the church had no Head.
It means that something that is utterly new (as Paul describes in Eph. 2:15) is not actually a new reality. So you have to work really hard at making that mean something else.
Remember, most views are the result of a theological system, and not rigorous exegesis. They may sound convincing and cohesive, but once you put them to the test of a detailed analysis of the text, they begin to crumble.
Let your understanding be developed from the text.
Don’t impose a view onto the text.
So the Church (since Acts 2) is God’s current, ordained expression of His presence and glory, but it is also His mouthpiece.
It’s through the economy of the Church that He is right now calling all men, women, and children everywhere to repent.
Regarding this, there’s a lot of questions regarding how the Church works out with relation to Israel, especially in the end.
o the questions becomes, will there be three groups of people in heaven (pre-Israel, Israel, the Church).
We don’t have the time to develop this, but we essentially see it as that there will be one group of people that make up heaven-- “The people of God.”
These three groups were different ways in which the economy of God worked itself out through the times, but in the end they’re summed up (and have their salvation) in Christ.
The Church was one of these, and began in Acts 2.