Did The ‘Church’ Cease To Exist Sometime In Its Early Years?  


The Survival Of The Church

Some Christians have assumed that the New Testament church ceased to exist sometime in its early years, but was restored by men like Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone in the 1800s in America. False teachers surfaced as early as the first century but apostasy started later on near the end of the second century and would spread. Paul warned that there would be a “falling away” (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 1 Timothy 4:1)

Churches did fall away just as Paul said, but this does not mean that every church and every Christian would be swept off their feet by false doctrines. We would naturally expect Satan to attack God’s people, but there have always been men and women of great faith, and courage that have stood firm on God’s Word and opposed Satan’s attacks. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus announced to his disciples, “I will build My church.”

Then he added, “The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”

Thousands of faithful Christians have had to suffer death for their defense of the truth. The church has withstood the fiery darts of the Devil and has prevailed. No army has ever been able to destroy it. Paganism has fought against it and failed. False religions have attempted to destroy it but it still prevails.

Powerful men of great wealth and influence have tried to eliminate it but failed. No country has ever caused it to cease. The church has remained alive in every century. Jesus made a solemn promise that the “gates of Hades” (death) would never stop it including His own death on the cross.

The apostles seemingly gave up hope after the death of Jesus. They thought that a kingdom (earthly) was now out of any possibility. They were unable to understand that the work of Jesus was just about to begin in establishing His spiritual kingdom. On the day of his ascension to heaven they still were not sure and asked, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

They were still thinking of an earthly kingdom. Not until Pentecost did they finally understand the nature and purpose of the kingdom. From what we read in Acts and the epistles we can confirm that the church grew rapidly by the time of the death of the apostle John who was the last apostle to die. This was near the end of the first century.

There were some who wrote during the second and third century who have been called “Church Fathers” and from what they wrote it is clear that the church was alive and growing. However, during the first 300 years, the Roman Empire was involved in an aggressive effort trying to eliminate Christianity. Christians in some places learned it was better to meet in small groups in order to avoid being detected, captured, and executed. Some were placed in arenas where wild animals were let loose to kill them. This was a popular sporting event for the non-Christians in Rome.

Sharon Turner and English historian estimates there were 500,000 Christians by the end of the first century then she jumps to 2,000,000 by the end of the second century. These numbers would appear to be inflated. Considering all the secrecy involved in finding secret places to worship it would be hard to come up with a correct number of members. However, we do know the church grew at a rapid rate during the first and second century and even on into the third century.

As early as the second century we notice that there were errors that were beginning to creep into the church. Polycarp (69-156) an associate of the apostle John called for a restoration of apostolic doctrines.

“Therefore, let us forsake the vain doing of the many and their false teachings, and turn unto the word which was delivered unto us from the beginning.”

A contemporary, Ignatius, urged Christians to be “inseparable from Jesus Christ and the teachings of the apostles.”

Later on, Polycarp an associate of the apostle John was called upon by a governor to renounce Christ before a pagan crowd or be burned at the stake. His reply has become a classic statement.

“Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?”

Even with the threats of death to Christians they would not renounce Christ. Such persecutions would become wide spread but because of their strong faith the church survived. It was just as Jesus said; death would not prevail against the church.

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Did The 'Church' Cease To Exist Sometime In Its Early Years?    


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