Home > Church and Worship
Click here to listen to this material as a free MP3 Bible study message.
Ephesians 3:10,11 - The church that Jesus built in the first century was part of the eternal purpose of God. That church was so important that Jesus died for it and He adds all saved people to it (Acts 20:28; 2:47).
But today we have hundreds of different denominations, differing from one another in name, worship, organization, and plan of salvation.
What about the church in the New Testament? When and where did it begin? And what about the origin of the modern denominations? When and where did they begin? Are they just a continuation of the New Testament church? What does God think about the modern churches?
Since the church was part of God's eternal purpose, Jesus died for it, and all saved people were in it, surely we ought to be concerned about its origin and about where these other churches came from and what God thinks about them.
Long before Jesus lived and died, Old Testament prophecy predicted the coming of His church. These predictions tell us some characteristics of the church so people could identify it when it came. This also helps us today to identify its existence today.
In the latter days the Lord's house will be established and all nations will flow to it. He will teach us His ways, for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (Jerusalem was built on a mountain called Zion). [Cf. Micah 4:1,2]
Daniel interpreted a dream for Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. He saw an image with a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, and legs and feet of iron and iron mixed with clay. A stone cut without hands struck the image on the feet and broke it to pieces. Then the stone grew and filled the whole earth. Daniel's interpretation was as follows:
* The head of gold represented the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar - Babylon (vv 37,38).
* The breasts and arms represented a later kingdom inferior to Babylon. History shows the next great empire, which defeated Babylon, was the Medo-Persian empire.
* The belly and thighs of brass represent a third worldwide kingdom (v39). This was the Grecian or Macedonian empire under Alexander.
* The legs and feet of iron and iron mixed with clay referred to a fourth kingdom, strong as iron, that would subdue all things, yet would have weakness like iron mixed with clay (vv 40-43). This must be the Roman empire. [Note that the passage counts each kingdom and says it would be worldwide. So the fourth kingdom must be Rome.]
* The stone cut without hands represents a kingdom God would set up in the days of the fourth kingdom. It would consume the other kingdoms, but would itself never be destroyed. [Cf. Luke 24:47-49; Joel 2:28-32]
One called the "Branch" would build the Lord's temple and sit ruling on His throne as a priest. Note: The king would at the same time be a priest who would build a temple. "Branch" is used elsewhere for the Messiah (Zech. 3:8; Isa. 53:2; 11:1; Jer. 23:5; 33:15; Rom. 15:12).
Psalms 110:1-4 likewise says the Messiah would be a priest after the order of Melchizedek, who was both a king and a priest. He would rule at God's right hand. So He would be a priest in His temple, at God's right hand, ruling as King in His kingdom, all at the same time.
Matthew 3:1,2; Mark 1:15; Matthew 10:7 - The kingdom is at hand
John the Baptist came preaching, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" The kingdom was near but had not yet arrived (cf. "at hand" in 2 Tim. 4:6). Note that this was during "the reign of Tiberias Caesar" (Luke 3:1-3), which was in the Roman empire.
After John, Jesus Himself preached "the kingdom of God is at hand." He sent His apostles to preach the same message.
[Cf. Luke 10:9; 19:11; 22:18; Matt. 6:10; 11:11; Mark 15:43]
Matthew 16:18,19 - I will build my church
After Peter confessed Jesus to be Christ (vv 15-17), Jesus said, "... you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." The rock was the truth Peter had confessed about who Jesus was: there can be no other foundation (1 Cor. 3:11).
Note: The church did not exist even at this time, but Jesus would be the builder or founder of it. It would belong to Him ("my church"). He would build only one. It was also called "the kingdom" (v19). [He would also be the foundation of it. Peter would have the keys to open the door into it - v19.]
Mark 9:1 - The kingdom would come with power in their lifetime.
Jesus promised, "there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power." The kingdom would come during the lifetime of the apostles, and would come "with power."
Acts 1:3-8 - The power would come when the Holy Spirit came.
After Jesus had died and arisen, but just before He ascended (vv 9-11), He was still discussing the kingdom with the apostles. He said the "power" would come when the Holy Spirit came to enable them to bear witness of Him (v8). This would happen beginning in Jerusalem (vv 4,8), not many days after His ascension (v5).
These passages give several identifying marks to demonstrate when the kingdom/temple/house/church would begin. What passage records the fulfillment of all these predictions?
Notice how the predictions of the church were fulfilled.
V1 - Events here occurred on the day of Pentecost. This was during the rule of the Roman kings (Luke 13:1-3) [Acts 11:28; 25:10-12]. It was not many days after Jesus' ascension. It was during the lifetime of the apostles and they were present to see it (v1; cf. 1:26).
Vv 2-4 - The Holy Spirit filled the apostles and gave them power to speak in languages they had never studied.
Vv 5-13 - These events occurred in Jerusalem (v5; cf. 1:4,12). Jews from every nation were present (v5).
Vv 14-40 - Peter stood up with the eleven other apostles and spoke the word of God. Note again that this was occurring in Jerusalem (v14).
Vv 16-21 - These events fulfilled prophecy that God would pour out His Spirit (Joel 2:28-32). This was in "the last days" (v17) [cf. Heb. 1:1,2]. The Spirit gave people the power to do the miracles described (vv 17,18).
Vv 22-32 - Peter proved that, though these people had slain Jesus, God raised Him up, proving Him to be the Messiah. Having been raised up, Jesus was on the throne of David (v30).
Vv 33-36 - Jesus was seated at God's right hand (vv 33,34). He sent the Holy Spirit as promised by the Father, and the apostles were bearing witness of this [cf. 2:32].
Vv 37-40 - The people asked what to do about their sins. Peter spoke the law of God whereby they could be pardoned. These same promises were to all men, even those afar off (many people from all nations could flow in).
Vv 41,47 - Those who received this word were baptized and added together. Beginning at that time and from then on, people of all nations could flow in whenever they were saved. All this was by the authority of the Lord, so He was the founder of it.
V47 - The KJV and NKJV show that the group to which people were added was the "church." The word may not be used in other translations, but all identifying marks of the church have been fulfilled, so this is surely what the group was.
The prophecies regarding the beginning of God's kingdom, the church, the temple, the house, have been fulfilled. It had been established so people might enter.
Notice passages that confirm the conclusion that the church was in existence after Pentecost.
Acts 5:11 - When Ananias and Sapphira were punished for their sin, great fear came on the whole church. So, the church existed.
Acts 8:1 - There arose a great persecution against the church.
Acts 11:22,26 - The church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch. There he and Saul assembled with the church and taught many people.
Acts 13:1 - In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers. [14:23,27]
Acts 11:15 - When Peter preached to Cornelius' household the first Gentiles were converted. So men of "all nations" were flowing into God's house - Jews of all nations in Acts 2, and from here on Gentiles also. [Rom. 1:16; 2:7-10]
Note that the coming of the Holy Spirit was Holy Spirit baptism (11:16), which Peter said came as "upon us at the beginning." The beginning of what? The clear reference is to Pentecost. That was "the beginning" of the church and of salvation of all mankind by the gospel.
Acts 20:28 - Elders (v17) were told "Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." This shows that the church was in existence and that it belonged to Jesus.
Note that men are saved by Jesus' blood (Eph. 1:7; 2:13; Rev. 1:5,6; Heb. 9:22). But the blood purchased the church. So, the church could not have belonged to Jesus before He died. And people cannot be saved outside the church, for the church is the group who have been purchased by Jesus' blood.
Ephesians 1:19-23 - Jesus was made Head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. This came after His resurrection. So, the church could not have existed before His resurrection, else it would have been a headless body. And note that no one else can serve as head for the church.
Ephesians 5:23,25 - As the husband is head of the wife, so Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. He loved the church and gave Himself for it. Again the church could not have existed before Jesus died or it would have been a headless body. And we must be in the church to be saved, because Jesus gave Himself for the church and is the Savior of it.
Colossians 1:13 - God has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love. So, the kingdom is in existence. The prophecies regarding its beginning were fulfilled on Pentecost just like the prophecies regarding the church. The "church" and the "kingdom" are different terms referring to the same people in the same relationship to Jesus. [Cf. Rev. 1:9; Heb. 12:28]
1 Timothy 3:15 - Paul instructed Timothy how to conduct himself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. So, the "house" of God is the "church" and it was in existence.
Ephesians 2:19-22 - The household of God (the church) is the temple of God of which redeemed people became part.
Hebrews 8:1 - Jesus is now our High Priest at God's right hand. He is a priest after the order of Melchizedek (6:20; 7:11-17; 4:14; 10:12,13). So, He must be in His temple and He must be king ruling in His kingdom, for all this was to happen when He was priest at God's right hand.
Hebrews 9:16,17 - Where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives. The church is a New Testament institution and could not have come into operation prior to Jesus' death. [Had it been operating prior to His death, it would have been abolished when He died!]
We conclude that Jesus fulfilled His promise to build His church. The prophecies of the coming of the kingdom/church were fulfilled on Pentecost in Jerusalem. God's eternal purpose came into reality. All people who want to be saved must obey the gospel conditions of forgiveness and be added by the Lord to the church that began on Pentecost.
Having learned from the Bible when and where Jesus' church began, let us now consider some things God said would happen to the church as time passed.
Acts 20:28-30 - Paul warned that men would come who would teach error and lead people astray. Such men would come even from among the elders, who lead local churches.
2 Timothy 4:2-4 - Paul warned Timothy to preach God's word - even when it is not popular - and to rebuke error, because the time would come when people would not want true teaching. People would turn aside from truth and seek teachers who would please their own human desires.
1 Timothy 4:1-3 - The spirit expressly predicted that the time would come when some people would fall away from the true faith and would follow lies and false doctrines. Specifically, they would say that certain people should not get married and that people should abstain from certain foods ("meats" - KJV, ASV).
Throughout history, false teachers have tried to lead God's people astray. But here are express predictions that such would happen among God's people in the church, even telling us some examples of false things people would teach. When this happens, we need to understand that the false teachers and those who follow them have ceased to be true followers of God.
(See also Matthew 7:15-23; Galatians 1:6-10; 1 John 4:1,6; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; 2 John 9-11; Ephesians 5:11; Matthew 15:14.)
The passages cited above predict apostasy in general and mention some specific errors that would be involved. Apostasy can occur in many aspects of the church but let us consider two areas that will be especially helpful in identifying churches that have departed from God's word.
Note the following teachings about the authority of the Scriptures (Bible).
The Scriptures completely reveal God's will.
John 16:13 - Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would reveal all truth to the apostles. (Note that this passage was spoken to Jesus' original apostles - 15:27.)
1 Corinthians 14:37 - The inspired apostles then wrote down the commands that they received from God. So what they wrote is inspired by God and contains all truth.
2 Timothy 3:16,17 - The Scriptures were inspired by God to instruct us in righteousness and provide us completely to all good works.
Note that all truth was revealed to inspired men in the first century, and all was written down as a standard to guide us once for all.
[Ephesians 3:3-5; 2 Peter 1:3; Jude 3; James 1:25]
The Scriptures can be understood.
2 Timothy 3:16,17 - The Scriptures are profitable to teach and instruct us in every good work. Can the Scriptures profit us in these matters if we cannot understand them?
Acts 17:11 - People who studied the Scriptures diligently with honest hearts were able to know whether or not what was being taught them was truth. We do not need to just accept someone else's word for what the Scriptures mean. Instead, God intended for the average person to be able to use the Scriptures to check out those who are teaching them.
[Mark 7:14; Psalms 119:105; Eph. 3:3-5; Psa. 19:7-11.]
The church must follow the Scriptures as their only authority, not human teachings that differ from the Scriptures.
Matthew 15:1-9,13,14 - Our service to God is vain if we follow man-made rules or traditions that differ from God's commands. Since all God's commands are in the Scriptures, it follows that any rule that differs from the Scriptures must be human in origin. Following human doctrines condemns both the teachers and their followers.
Galatians 1:8,9 - Anyone who teaches things different from what the original apostles and prophets taught is accursed. But remember that the Scriptures provide us to all the good works that the apostles and prophets taught.
2 John 9-11 - To have fellowship with God and Jesus, we must abide in Jesus' teachings (in the Scriptures). If we do not abide in Jesus' teachings we do not have God.
This means that any group is in apostasy and cannot be Jesus' true church if they teach that the Scriptures are not a complete revelation of God's will, or if they teach that the average person cannot understand the Bible, or if they follow man-made rules or creeds as their authority.
[Proverbs 14:12; 3:5,6; Isa. 55:8,9; Jer. 10:23; Col. 3:17; Rev. 22:18,19.]
Consider some Bible facts about the organization or government of the church.
Ephesians 1:22,23 - Christ is head over all things to His spiritual body, the church. He made all the rules, and those rules were all recorded in the Bible. No one else has the right to serve as head of the church or to make rules for the church (see verses on authority above).
Ephesians 5:22-25 - Jesus' church has only one head just as a husband has only one wife. To say the church can have two heads would be like saying a wife can have two husbands. That would be adultery (Rom. 7:2,3). [Col. 1:18]
Hebrews 8:1 - Jesus is now in heaven (cf. Acts 1:9-11; 2:33). Since He is head over all things to the church, and since He is in heaven, then the headquarters of the church must be in heaven. Jesus' church has no earthly central headquarters.
Christians did associate together in local churches, each church seeking to develop qualified men known as "elders," "bishops," or "pastors" to lead the local flock. But the oversight of these leaders was limited to the one local church where they were members, so each church functioned independently subject to Christ through the gospel - Acts 14:23; 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-3.
So Jesus' church has no earthly head, headquarters, or universal officers. We must not follow human heads, human laws, or human headquarters. It follows that any group is in apostasy if it claims to have a human head or an earthly headquarters, or if it says that some man or group of men may supervise the work of several local churches.
[Cf. Phil. 1:1; Acts 20:17,28; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9.]
[The apostles did serve a universal purpose, but their work has been accomplished; so the church has no apostles nor successors to the apostles on earth today - John 16:13; Acts 1:21,22; 1 Cor. 13:8-10; 2 Tim. 3:16,17].
Next we will examine historically when and how various modern denominations came into existence separate from other denominations. Then we will compare their origin to what the Bible says about the origin of Jesus' church.
Since these groups are not named in the Bible, we cannot cite Scripture for their origin. We can only determine their origin from history. In the interest of fairness, we will try to quote sources from within each group, in order to allow them to speak for themselves.
In many cases we can simply accept what denominations say about when and where they began. But sometimes groups make claims they cannot prove, in which case we will try to reach a conclusion based on other information they give. Especially we will consider when they may have accepted a formal statement of doctrine or a central organization separate from other groups; if so, we will conclude that, at that point they became an organized, functioning religious denomination separate from other such denominations.
Note that this study will involve naming specific religious groups, just as Jesus and His apostles named groups (Pharisees, Sadducees, Stoics, etc.). Our goal is not to harm anyone but to challenge all to learn the truth and obey God to receive eternal life (John 8:32; 17:17).
The Catholic Church claims to be a continuation of the original church. It does not admit to have begun any other time or place. But remember that the Bible predicts that there would be apostasy from the original church. So we need to consider whether the Catholic church is the original church or an apostasy from it. To do this let us consider what the Catholic Church itself says about its authority and its organization.
Quotations from Catholic sources:
"We must, therefore, conclude that the Scriptures alone cannot be a sufficient guide and rule of faith ... because they are not of themselves clear and intelligible even in matters of the highest importance, and because they do not contain all the truths necessary for salvation" The Faith of Our Fathers, James Cardinal Gibbons, 110th Edition, p. 73.
"Do we get from the Bible alone all our knowledge and certainty about what God has told us? No, there is also Sacred Tradition ... Do you have to believe in Tradition? Yes, ... we are obliged to accept all the truths contained in the Bible and Tradition..." - A Catechism for Adults, William Cogan, 1975 Edition, pp. 9,10.
"In early times, the Bible was read freely by the lay people ... No prohibitions were issued against the popular reading of the Bible. New dangers came in during the middle ages ... To meet these evils, the Councils of Toulouse (1229) and Tarragona (1234) forbade the laity to read the vernacular translations of the Bible. Pius IV. required the bishops to refuse lay persons leave to read even Catholic versions of Scripture unless their confessors or parish priests judged that such reading was likely to prove beneficial" - The Catholic Dictionary, Addis and Arnold, p. 82.
So, the Catholic church contradicts Bible teaching about authority:
(1) It denies that the Bible can be understood by the average person.
(2) It denies that the Bible is a complete revelation of God's will for man.
(3) It teaches that people must follow tradition as well as the Bible.
(4) It has at times forbidden average people from studying the Bible.
Quotations from Catholic sources:
The Church "may be defined as 'the society of the faithful ... who are under one head in heaven, viz. Christ, one head on earth, viz. the Pope...'" - The Catholic Dictionary, Addis and Arnold, p176.
"The Pope, who is the bishop of Rome and the Vicar of Christ ... is the visible head of the whole Catholic Church" - A Catechism for Adults, William Cogan, 1975 Edition, pp. 55,56.
"Does Jesus require us to follow the Pope in matters of religion? Yes, because obedience and loyalty to the Pope are among the chief requirements of Our Lord's plan for unity" - A Catechism for Adults, William Cogan, 1975 Edition, p. 56.
"At the end of the fifth century the Roman Church was completely organized..." ("Canon Law," Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. IX, p61)
So the Catholic Church contradicts the Bible regarding headship:
(1) It teaches that obedience to the Pope is required.
(2) It teaches that the Pope is also head of the church, and the church has two heads.
Remember also that the Catholic Church forbids priests to marry and commands people to abstain from meats at certain holy days. This directly fulfills the prediction of apostasy in 1 Timothy 4:1-3.
These points (and many others that could be examined) show that the Catholic Church is not the New Testament Church, but fulfills the Bible predictions of apostasy. If the Catholic Church has different headship and follows different authority than did Jesus' original church, it cannot be Jesus' original church.
Because this apostasy was a gradual development, it is hard to name an exact date when the Catholic Church began to exist as a separate entity. However, since they claim the church was fully organized by the end of the fifth century AD, it is fair to conclude that the Catholic Church was fully formed as a separate church from the original church by the fifth century.
As the Roman Catholic Church departed further and further from God's word, it allowed only Latin translations of the Bible, which the common people could not read. But in the 1400's and 1500's bold men began to translate the Bible into the common languages of the people. Soon people in many countries began to oppose the errors of Rome.
This movement was led by several men who were members of the Catholic Church. At first most of them did not intend to start new churches, but simply protested the teachings of the Catholic Church and sought to reform it. Hence, the Protestant Reformation. But when it became clear that Rome would not be reformed, these leaders and their followers gradually left the Catholic Church. Since the men had various doctrinal disagreements among themselves, they or their followers formed a number of Protestant churches unknown previously.
Dates for the origin of some groups may easily be determined by their own writings. Other cases are more difficult because they developed gradually as a result of a progression in belief.
Martin Luther was a Catholic monk who, in 1517, nailed his "95 Theses" or points of disagreement with the Catholic Church on the door of the church building in Wittenberg, Germany. He never intended to start a church, yet his work led his followers to begin a church separate from Rome.
"The ELCA, along with other Lutheran churches, can trace its roots directly to the Protestant Reformation that took place in Europe in the 16th century. Martin Luther, a German monk, became aware of differences between the Bible and church practices of the day. His writings, lectures and sermons inspired others to protest church practices and call for reform.
"By the late 1500s the Reformation had spread throughout Europe. Followers of Martin Luther's teachings were labeled "Lutherans" by their enemies and adopted the name themselves." - Website of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,
So Lutherans acknowledge that their denomination grew out of the work of Martin Luther in Germany in the 1500's. Surely no Lutheran church existed before the life and work of Luther.
Because the movement developed gradually, it is hard to name a specific date when the church began. But the fundamental creeds of Lutheranism - Luther's long and short catechisms and Melancthon's Augsburg Confession - were written in 1529 and 1530. So a reasonable date for the origin of the Lutheran churches would be 1530.
"The Evangelical Mennonite Church as it exists today has a spiritual heritage which can be traced directly to early reformation days in church history ... there appeared on the scene ... a man qualified to give them the courageous leadership they so sorely needed. His name: Menno Simons ... from that time on the members of this group have been known as Mennonites" - Evangelical Mennonite Church Manual of Faith and Practice, 1960, pp. 5,6.
This denomination has a Constitution and an "...Annual Convention to serve as the final arbiter in the interpretation of this Constitution as to doctrine and practice..." Church Manual, pp. 33,34.
So Mennonites acknowledge that their name and denomination grew out of the work of Menno Simons. They have a constitution and a central organization that distinguishes them from other denominations.
Again, an exact date for their beginning may be hard to assign, but World Book, says: "Mennonites ... belong to a Protestant sect organized in 1525 in Zurich, Switzerland..." - Vol. 12, p. 326.
"The roots of the Church of England go back to the time of the Roman Empire when a Christian church came into existence in what was then the Roman province of Britain ... At the Reformation the Western Church became divided between those who continued to accept Papal authority and the various Protestant churches that repudiated it. The Church of England was among the churches that broke with Rome. The catalyst for this decision was the refusal of the Pope to annul the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, but underlying this was a Tudor nationalist belief that authority over the English Church properly belonged to the English monarchy." - Website of the Church of England:
"There had been many attempts at reform, but they were all unsuccessful until Henry VIII quarreled with the Pope and took the side of the reforming party. King Henry wished to divorce his wife, Katherine of Aragon, that he might marry Anne Boleyn ... [This led to] a personal quarrel between Henry and the Papacy, and this quarrel was the occasion but not the cause of the subsequent Reformation ... Henry saw at last that he could not marry Anne Boleyn as long as he looked to the Pope for a divorce. Accordingly he threw his influence with the reforming party in the Church and in the State, and appealed to the English Church to grant him what the Pope refused...
"...And in 1533 [Parliament] declared that the Church of England was free and independent, ... and that, so far as the law of Christ allowed, in England the King was the supreme temporal head of the Church" - The Episcopal Church - Its Teachings and Worship, Latta Griswold; Morehouse-Gorham Co., New York, 1917, pp. 8-12.
The Church website also states how the church developed their unique doctrinal and worship guidelines: the "Thirty-nine Articles of Religion," the Book of Common Prayer, etc. Bishops, priests, and deacons are required to affirm their belief in these various statements.
So the Church of England was part of the Catholic Church until the Reformation. Many factors led to separation, but the immediate occasion was Henry VIII's determination to divorce his wife. In 1533 the Church of England officially became a separate church from the Roman Church, with the king as its earthly head, and eventually developed its unique doctrinal authorities.
As the British Empire spread, Anglicans in other countries formed other churches affiliated with the Church of England in the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church is the Anglican church in the United States.
"American Presbyterianism has its roots in Scotch Presbyterianism. ... It is thus the Scotch who fathered all the Presbyterian denominations across the globe. The roots of all Presbyterians lead back to the Church of Scotland.
"The Church of Scotland: The origin of all Presbyterian and Reformed churches can be traced back to Calvin's Geneva. It was there that John Knox, a former Catholic priest, and the founder of the Church of Scotland, was instructed ... In 1560 after a brief civil war the Church of Scotland was officially established and the Scotch parliament adopted a Reformed confession of faith written by Knox ..." - Website of the American Presbyterian Church
"The United Presbyterian Church ... is guided by the Nicene and Apostles' Creed from the time of the early church; the Scots Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Second Helvetic Confession from the era of the Reformation; the Westminster Confession and Shorter Catechism from the seventeenth century; and the Theological Declaration of Barmen from the twentieth century." - The Book of Confessions of the United Presbyterian Church, section 9.04
The above website then proceeds to describe the church General Assembly that determines guidelines that "guide the church."
Again, because the movement developed gradually, precise dates are difficult to determine. The church was not actually begun by John Calvin, but is based on his Institutes of the Christian Religion published in 1536. In 1560 John Knox actually founded the Church of Scotland, from which all Presbyterian churches come.
We conclude that the denomination originated as a combination of the work of John Calvin in Switzerland in 1536 and the work of John Knox in Scotland in 1560.
The Hiscox Guide for Baptist Churches has "A Chronological Table" in which the earliest date shown is 1525 when "Swiss Anabaptists broke with Zwingli." Then in 1609, "First English General Baptist church formed in Holland under John Smyth" - The Hiscox Guide for Baptist Churches, Edward T. Hiscox; Judson Press, Valley Forge, 1964, p. 141.
"...there are those who hold that one way or another there has been a continuous line from the days of John the Baptist ... But the most widely held view, it would seem, conceded to be supported best by historical research, is that the beginnings were in English Congregationalism in the 17th century ... The leader ... in Holland was John Smyth ... This congregation in Holland in 1609 is widely recognized as the first church formed on basic Baptist principles" - "These Are the Baptists," Gene Bartlett; Cathedral Publishers, Royal Oak, MI, 1972, p. 3,4.
So some claim that the Baptist church is simply a continuation of a church actually begun during the lifetime of John the Baptist. If so, it could not belong to Jesus, nor could He be the Head of it, since He had not died and arisen (Acts 20:28; Eph. 1:19-23; 5:23,25; Heb. 9:16,17). Jesus' church did not begin till after John died (Matt. 16:18; cf. 14:1ff). Any church begun in John's lifetime would have been removed along with the Old Testament and along with John's baptism when Jesus died (Heb. 10:9,10; Acts 19:1-6).
But actual history records that the first organized Baptist Church was formed in 1609 in Holland under the leadership of John Smyth.
"This church is a great Protestant body, though it did not come directly out of the Reformation but had its origin within the Church of England. Its founder was John Wesley..." - The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church; United Methodist Pub. House, Nashville, 1972, p. 7.
"Traditionally United Methodists have not only been happy to be guided by the Discipline as a book of church law, but they have usually regarded it with a certain degree of reverence..." - The Book of Discipline, p. v, vi.
The Discipline also describes the General Conference that has "full legislative power" over all denominational matters (p20).
So again, the Methodist Church is a Protestant denomination having its own organization and authority, separate from the denomination from which it came. It was founded by John Wesley. No date is given, but Mead's Handbook of Denominations gives a date of 1739.
The Book of Mormon claims that a man named Alma baptized many people in America and "they were called the church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time forward..." - Mosiah 18:17, p. 169. A footnote dates this event at 147 BC.
They then claim that the church went into apostasy and was restored under the leadership of Joseph Smith in America in 1829 - Articles of Faith, Talmage, pp. 203f. They have their own unique doctrinal authorities (Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, etc.) and church organization with a board of twelve apostles with a President, etc.
So the Mormon church began in America in either 147 BC (an unproved claim) or 1829. In either case, it is the wrong place and either much too early (see notes on the Baptist Church) or much too late to be Jesus' church.
"In fulfillment of the divine plan, the Advent Movement began its prophetic journey toward the kingdom in the year 1844. .... Their conviction was greatly strengthened by messages coming from the pen of Ellen G. White.
"The result was that in 1860 a church name, Seventh-day Adventist, was chosen and a legal body created to hold church property. This was followed, in 1861, by the organization of our first conference ... [in Michigan]
"In 1863 the General Conference was organized, thus gathering into one organization a number of local conferences which had been created by that time. This set the Advent Movement on a coordinated, organized course." - Website of the Seventh Day Adventist Church (quoting the church manual)
So the Adventist movement began in 1844 and became fully organized with a General Conference by 1863. (What the site does not say is that the movement began as the result of a false prophecy by William Miller that Jesus would return in 1844. So the founder of the movement may be viewed as William Miller or Ellen G. White.)
Christian Science materials repeatedly call Mary Baker Eddy the discoverer of Christian Science and the founder of The First Church of Christ, Scientist. We are told about:
"the event in Mrs. Eddy's life which led to her discovery of Christian Science and eventually to her founding of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts - The Mother Church - and its branches throughout the world" - A Century of Christian Science Healing; The Christian Science Publishing Co., Boston, 1966, p. viii.
"Science and Health is the Christian Science textbook, and is studied together with the Bible" - Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy; The First Church of Christ, Scientist, Boston, 1971 printing, fly leaf.
She published Science and Health in 1875, then: "Four years later, under her direction, a group of her students voted to 'organize a church ...' This was the beginning of the Church of Christ, Scientist" - A Century of Christian Science Healing; The Christian Science Publishing Co., Boston, 1966, p. 6.
This fulfilled a statement she had made years earlier: "'I shall have a church of my own some day'" - Mary Baker Eddy - A Life Size Portrait, Lyman P. Powell; The Christian Science Pub. Society, Boston, 1950, p. 146, 169.
So the Christian Scientist Church was founded in 1879 in America by Mary Baker Eddy, based on the teachings in her book Science and Health.
"Near the close of the nineteenth century, a movement for the spread and conservation of scriptural holiness in organized church form developed almost simultaneously in various parts of the United States. This movement ... culminated finally in the organization of the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene. ... In December, 1895, delegates ... adopted a constitution, summary of doctrines, and bylaws, and formed the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America." - Manual - Church of the Nazarene; Nazarene Pub. House, Kansas City, 1972, pp. 15-21.
The Manual then describes that union with various other groups followed, and the name "Church of the Nazarene" was adopted in 1919. So we may say that the church began, as an organized, functioning body, having its own doctrinal statements, etc. in America in 1895.
Our study has shown that Jesus built His church, beginning on Pentecost in Jerusalem in Acts 2. All saved people were in that church, and to be among the saved, we must be in it too. However, God predicted that, after the church began, there would be departures in which people would leave His true way and follow error instead.
We have now examined statements from many modern denominations. In each case those statements, either directly or indirectly, show that they began some other time or place than Jesus' church. Each teaches doctrines not found in the Bible, and nearly all have humanly written doctrinal standards in addition to the Bible. Each has its own organization that separates it from other denominations and that differs from the organization of Jesus' church.
So the tragedy of modern denominations is that they differ from the church the Jesus built in doctrinal authority, organization, and in origin. Further investigation would reveal other differences from Jesus' church. It follows that none of them can be the church that Jesus built and died for.
Yet you and I still need to be members of Jesus' one true church. But modern denominations are not the true church. So how can we be members of Jesus' church?
1 Peter 1:22-25 - God's word still has the power to save from sin because it will live and abide forever. With humble faith we must obey that gospel without any human changes. Then we will be born again and the Lord will add us to His true church (Acts 2:47). This will always work because the power is in the seed, the word of God.
But what church will we be members of then? Not any denomination. Just Jesus' church - the one you read about in the gospel - the same church to which Jesus added Peter, Paul, Lydia, Dorcas, and all first-century Christians. It has no central earthly organization and no doctrinal standard except the Bible. It is simply the universal body of all people who have truly been saved according to the terms of the gospel. Then each disciple needs to become identified with a local church that follows the Bible in authority, organization, name, worship, and plan of salvation. Have you done this?
1992, 2011 David E. Pratte
Local churches and individuals may, within limits, distribute this Bible study guide for free, but not for sale. Web sites may link to this page but not reproduce it. For details click here for our copyright guidelines.
The Importance of Jesus' Church
Why So Much Religious Confusion and Disagreement?
The Bible vs. Denominational Creeds
Name of Jesus' Church
Divine Authority vs. Human Authority in Religion
What Does God Think about Denominationalism?
How Many True Churches Are There?
Church Organization, Government, & Work
The Nature and Meaning of the Church
Go to the Bible Study Online Library (the Gospel Way)
Follow us at:
Links from other web sites are welcome and encouraged:
www.gospelway.com The Gospel Way: Free Bible Study Online Materials & Guides
Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.